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The Holiday fireworks and other fanfare are often frightful experiences for dogs. The loud noises can hurt their sensitive ears.
Frightened dogs have different reactions: some tremble at their owners' feet, others retreat to a hiding place, some try to run off (traveling for miles), and others display bizarre behavior. According to behavior specialist Dr. Elizabeth Shull, low-frequency, percussive noises such as fireworks and summer thunderstorms trigger wild fear in about 20% of dogs. Under such circumstances, ordinarily well-behaved pets may become aggressive, destructive and/or unpredictable.
Here are some precautions you can take to help your pets:
* Exercise utmost caution when taking a dog into new environments.
* Make sure all pets always are wearing well-fitted collars and securely fastened ID tags. Microchips and tattoos are great ID techniques, too. Even a back-firing car or shot in the woods can be enough to incite a dog to run off, so avoid taking any chances.
* Don't take pets to events with fireworks.
* If fireworks are being set off nearby, or if you're having guests over for a holiday celebration, find a quiet, secure place to keep your pets. Darkening the room can help. Crating is also a good idea -- place the crate in the quietest part of the home. Make sure you put safe chew toys in the crate to occupy and distract the pet during the event. You can close the curtains and turn up the radio, CD player or TV to drown out noise.
* Do not leave pets outside, even in a fenced yard, anytime when fireworks might be set off in the distance.
* Rather than cuddle a frightened dog, try to distract the dog from the disturbing noises with physical activity such as playing ball.
* Remember that scolding or coddling a scared dog will not help. Scolding will scare and confuse the animal, and coddling serves to reinforce fearful behaviors. Instead, assume your pack leader role and act confident and unbothered by the noise and activity outside. You can give your pet a gentle massage, or use Tellington Touch techniques (see the T-Touch Dog Tip on the PAW website) or even just place your hand calmly on the pet's head.
* If the sounds and lights of fireworks frighten your dog, here's an innovative technique from the most recent issue of "Unleashed! The Pet Care Forum's Newsletter for Dog Lovers" (www.vin.com/PetCare/Dogs.htm). Make an "anxiety wrap" using an adult or children's T-shirt. Put the dog's front legs through the arm holes, then knot the hem over the dog's back. This technique is related to the massage and Tellington Touch therapy approaches. Wrapping fabric around an animal can give the pet a feeling of greater security.
* Vets can prescribe tranquilizers for frightened dogs. Also, some people find that non-prescription remedies such as Rescue Remedy or Serene-um calm their dogs.
* If you're going out of town for the holidays, entrust the care and feeding of pets to an adult friend or a boarding kennel you know very well.
* If you know someone whose pet escaped, advise that they call their veterinarian and other local veterinarians, local emergency animal clinics, the local shelters and animal control offices. The owner can post a description and picture of the lost pet or search the Pets 911 database at www.1888PETS911.org (or call toll-free 1-888-PETS911). Another good resource is www.petfinder.org.