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4th of July fireworks fusillades are no fun for Fido

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 02. 2018 12:48PM
Jez Taft, a trainer at All Dogs Gym & Inn, comforts Penelope, who is wearing a compression shirt designed to reduce dog anxiety. (Todd Feathers/Union Leader)

For some, Independence Day is best spent huddling in a bath tub.

That’s just fine, said UNH animal psychologist Jan Tornick, as long as you’re a dog.

The fireworks have started popping off, and after the July Fourth crescendo late revelers will inevitably continue the nightly fusillade until they run out of supplies. For many dog owners, that means hours of comforting anxious pets or, worse yet, searching for one that has fled. 

“Having a noise phobia or storm anxiety for dogs, or any animals, really is very common and it is probably evolutionary adaptive for animals to have this storm reaction to loud noises,” Tornick said. Their primal response is to seek the deepest, most sheltered cave — or room — around.

She and other dog experts agreed: If Fido is happiest in the bath tub, let him stay there. Trying to comfort an animal or desensitize it to fireworks can actually be counter-productive.

One 2011 study published in the New Zealand Veterinary Journal, for example, found that comforting dogs and cats when they exhibited anxiety led to a significant increase in the duration and severity of their symptoms in the long run.

Jez Taft, a trainer at All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester, recommended that owners of pets who don’t like fireworks set up a cage or hiding spot with a blanket over it and turn on a television or classical music to drown out the noise.

“Start ahead of time,” she said. “If you think your dog is going to be nervous, set up a safe space. If you wait until it starts and then you get anxious, your dog will also get anxious.”

Taft has also heard from owners that products like pheromones, soothing oils, or compression shirts (sold at most pet stores) calmed their dogs down during storms or firework displays, although she doesn’t know if there’s much science behind it. In the New Zealand study, researchers didn’t find conclusive evidence that such treatments did or didn’t work.

Owners should also be particularly vigilant when taking dogs for a walk, according to Maureen Prendergast, director of outreach and investigations for the New Hampshire Animal Rescue League.

“This time of year, especially with the 4th of July holiday, people take their dog out for a last bathroom trip and they’re usually fine with it but then a neighbor sets off a firework and your dog just bolts,” she said.

Now, more than ever, it’s important to ensure your pets have tags with a phone number to call.

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