Fireworks: no need to fear!

29 Dec

New Year’s Eve is fast approaching and while this is an evening of excitement and festivities for people, it can be down-right frightening for dogs. Fireworks can be confusing and scary to almost any dog. The sounds are unusual and out of context occurring only on rare occasions in most places in the world.

We live in a townhouse (keeps life interesting with two vizslas πŸ™‚ ), and recently the unit behind ours was renovated. During this time, many days were filled with the sounds of hammering and banging. Of course, this caught the attention of Ilsa and Gumbo, and while they normally aren’t startled by sounds (we do have city dogs after all), the construction noises sent them into hysteria. You could tell by the looks on their faces that they were just utterly confused. They don’t understand that someone lives on the other side of our wall. Luckily, we have a game plan for anytime they become unsettled. We instruct Gumbo to go to his crate (we keep one in our living room in addition to the one in our bedroom just for this purpose) and Ilsa to go to her “bagel” (a round plush dog bed that I wouldn’t mind sleeping on myself ;)). This practice developed as a way to calm them when someone knocks on the front door. Now, they almost dive toward their respective locations because it is considered a safe place and always associated with a treat.

Fireworks are equally confusing and can be more frightening if associated with an echoing boom. The only advantage to fireworks is that we can predict their forthcoming. Here in the U.S., we can be sure that we will have at least two night annually filled with fireworks. To prepare our vizslas for these evenings, we occasionally expose them to these sounds while they are doing something they LOVE. As a puppy, we played firework videos from YouTube while Gumbo was eating. We started out at very low volumes and gradually increased the volume over the course of many days. This is not a perfect solution as it is almost impossible to simulate the echo of the live sound, but it seems to make them far less reactive.

Recently, I noticed that Gun Dog Supply (a WONDERFUL site) sells CDs with thunder and fireworks sounds. I haven’t used these CDs, so I can’t give a recommendation – but they seem similar to our YouTube approach. I have heard good things about the Thundershirt, but again, I have no first hand experience with it. One major fear among bird dog owners is that fireworks or thunder could make their dogs gun shy. Being afraid of fireworks does not necessarily mean that a dog will be gun shy, but it is easy to rationalize that a fear of one echoing sound could cause fear associations with a similar sound.

This year, we will be at home for New Year’s with our vizslas instead of pheasant hunting as I’m sure they would prefer, but hopefully it will still be a peaceful evening for our pups. We wish you all a Happy New Year and may 2012 bring you lots of fun and joy with your canines!


2 Responses to “Fireworks: no need to fear!”

  1. SCRobyn December 29, 2011 at 7:33 AM #

    The Thundershirt is AWESOME!! My Tsonga is quite the nervous nelly Vizsla, so this has been a lifesaver. We use it for anytime he is nervous like when we have guests. I highly recommend it to anyone!!

    • Ben December 29, 2011 at 8:45 AM #

      Thanks for the insight Robyn! Perhaps Ilsa would benefit from it during her many nervous moments…

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