Strap line

It started when two canine scientists decide to become pen pals in an era of digital media...

Sunday, 30 December 2012

What kinds of dogs are troubled by fireworks, and what to do about it


Hi Mia,
I agr
ee with you. As much as I enjoy New Years celebrations, it breaks my heart to see so many dogs distressed over our reverie.


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Which dogs are troubled by noises?
As you say, some dogs are la-di-da about fireworks and others act as if it’s Judgment Day times ten. What could be behind those differences?

Early Fireworks
You shared a really interesting finding that dogs who heard fireworks when they were puppies were less likely to show a fear response to noises later in life. This reminds us of the importance of early exposure to (and happy experiences with!) stimuli that might be freaky! 


Paw Preference and Fear?
Is it possible that seemingly unrelated behaviors like paw preference and noise phobia could be related?
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As you know, paw preference has to do with whether a dog chooses to use one paw over the other when performing certain tasks, such as repeatedly using the right paw to hold down a Kong stuffed with food while he eats. For anther test of paw preference, researchers look at which paw the dog uses to step forward from a standing position.

What in the world could paw preference tell us about a dog’s fear of fireworks? You know about the research done in your neck of the woods -- in Australia -- by Branson and Rogers (2006). They found that ambidextrous dogs, dogs who did not have a clear right or left paw preference, showed greater reactivity to fireworks and thunderstorms than dogs who either preferred the right or the left paw.

They suggest that non-ambidextrous dogs -- dogs who prefer drawing from one side of the brain hemisphere during a particular behavior -- might have a more tempered response to disturbing stimuli. The researchers note, “One way of inhibiting an intense response to a disturbing stimulus is to shift attention to another, less disturbing stimulus,” and it seems that an ambidextrous dog might be less capable of doing that.

At the same time, the study of brain lateralization in dogs is in its infancy. We are only beginning to understand the relationship between lateralization and how dogs behave and perceive the world. It will be interesting to see how this field progresses 

The “Why”s of noise phobias are interesting, but the other part of the situation is how to help a dog once he is freaked out.

A dog is afraid of noises, now what?
You offered a number of great suggestions to treat fear and noise phobia such as DAP, behavior modification and medication.


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On our Facebook page, someone offered their solution: "Nothing worked so I book a Forest Service cabin in the middle of nowhere and stay there with my dog who hates Fireworks. It was a nightmare time now its vacation."

A number of people look into products that swaddle dogs, such as Thundershirt and Anxiety Wrap. The product manufacturers claim that wrapping reduces fear by maintaining pressure.

You showed me a forthcoming study that investigated whether the Anxiety Wrap (Animals Plus LLC, Huntington, IN) helped dogs with thunderstorm phobia. In this study, owners reported on their dog’s behavior during thunderstorms with and without the Anxiety Wrap.

Was the Wrap helpful?

  • 79% of owners reported that the Anxiety Wrap was somewhat to totally effective (25%-100% effective).
  • But the product did not decrease all dog anxiety behaviors. Of the anxiety behaviors you mentioned, owners claimed that only shaking and pacing decreased, whereas dogs continued to perform any of the following: panting, performing inappropriate elimination, seeking attention, vocalizing, not eating, salivating or hiding. Although the Anxiety Wrap claims it doesn’t decrease mobility, it is possible dogs are not actually less fearful, just less ambulatory. At the same time, dogs performed less shaking, which does not relate to locomotion, and this behavioral change is definitely notable.
  • If we want a product to have a fighting chance, we’ve got to make associations with the product itself as happy and "positive" as possible. Don’t only put the product on when bad %*!?@#! is going down. In this study, “Owners were instructed to practice fitting the Anxiety Wrap once before using it during a thunderstorm and associate its first use with a reward.... [and] owners were also instructed to fit the Anxiety Wrap on fair weather days at least 3 times during the course of the study to avoid the dogs from associating its use with thunderstorms.” This is one of the most important pieces to any successful behavior change (and emotion change) program.
  • Why might wrapping help? Other research has suggested that tactile pressure can have a calming effect on a number of species (ourselves included), but there are two other elements to consider: how much pressure should be applied for the desired effect, and should the pressure be constant or changing so as to avoid habituation? For example, Temple Grandin found that she habituated to steady tactile pressure after about 15 minutes and would need to vary the intensity of the pressure.
Overall, owners reported that the Anxiety Wrap was helpful, and I’d say it’s certainly worth a shot. From a research perspective, there are a number of topics not yet explored, such as intensity and consistency of tactile pressure as well as behavioral and physiological indicators of a decreased stress response.

Good luck to you all! Happy (almost) New Year!

Julie



Want to learn more about Pawedness in Dogs? 
~ An interview with Dr. Paul McGreevy.
~ A short video of Dr. Karen Overall reporting on the findings of handedness in dogs.


Reference
Branson N.J. & Rogers L.J. (2006). Relationship between paw preference strength and noise phobia in Canis familiaris., Journal of Comparative Psychology, 120 (3) 176-183. DOI:

Cottam N., Dodman N.H. & Ha J.C. (2012). The effectiveness of the Anxiety Wrap in the treatment of canine thunderstorm phobia: An open-label trial, Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, DOI:

© Julie Hecht 2012