KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Booming fireworks that make July Fourth fun for people can terrorize dogs, a University of Tennessee animal behavior specialist said Wednesday.
Dr. Elizabeth Shull said low-frequency, percussive noises such as fireworks and summer thunderstorms trigger wild fear in about 20 percent of dogs.
Under such circumstances, ordinarily well-behaved pets may become aggressive, destructive and unpredictable, she said.
“Fireworks or thunderstorms can put some dogs into a state of pure panic,” Shull said. “If your dog has shown excessive fear of loud noises, you should plan to be with the animal on July Fourth, or take steps to keep it from harming itself, other dogs or humans.”
In studies of canine behavior, Shull has found:
— Dogs seem to exhibit less fear when their owners are with them.
— Anti-anxiety drugs and sedatives from a veterinarian are the best treatment for dogs extremely afraid of booming noises.
— Behavior modification therapy can help dogs with only a moderate fear. Exposing fearful animals to a low-volume recording of noises they fear, gradually making it louder over time, can help them lose their fear.
— Earplugs and sound-insulated rooms can help calm dogs that are only mildly afraid of such noises. However, mild fear, if ignored or untreated, often grows more extreme as the dog grows older.
Researchers are not sure why some noises cause certain dogs to panic, but it may be a survival instinct from deep in the animals’ evolutionary past, Shull said.
“This fear may be inherited from long ago, but this excessive behavior today could kill the dog rather than increase its chance for survival,” Shull said.
Contact: Dr. Elizabeth Shull (423-974-5546)