Why is Fido afraid of fireworks?

SCIENCE

Is your furry friend looking forward to the Fourth of July as much as you? Maybe not, if he or she suffers from noise anxiety. What causes it, and how can you help? (New York Times)

How did dogs evolve to become such good best buddies? Use our resources to find out.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

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St. Bernard dog with his trainer, an Augustinian monk, atop the Great Saint Bernard Pass in Switzerland. Photo by Thomas J. Abercrombie, National Geographic

Discussion Ideas 

  • Are all dogs afraid of loud noises?
    • Yes, to some extent. Just like humans, it’s normal for dogs to jump when they hear a surprising or loud sound. Many animals experience a temporary increase in heart rate before returning to normal.

 

  • What is physically happening when a dog reacts strongly to thunder, fireworks, or other loud noises?
    • According to Dr. Melissa Bain, an associate professor of clinical animal behavior at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, dogs may experience a flight response.
      • Dog brains—like human brains—have a hypothalamus that produces hormones to govern things like hunger, sleep, and body temperature. In response to a startling trigger, the hypothalamus directs certain systems to release stress hormones such as epinephrine (adrenaline) to help the body deal with a perceived threat.
        • When these hormones are released, they can cause physical reactions like increased heart rate and blood pressure, tense muscles, and dilated pupils.
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Treasure diver wins a moist greeting from his pet schnauzer, Mitzi. Photo by Emory Kristof, National Geographic

 

  • How do some dogs respond to their flight response?
    • Sadly, many of them may have the impulse to “take flight” and will try to run away from the perceived threat. Some animal shelters say July 5th is their busiest day of the year for taking in lost dogs.
    • In some cases, dogs have also gotten stuck in small hiding spaces, gnawed on door handles, or even broken through windows.

 

  • Why isn’t my cat afraid of fireworks, too?
    • Cats can experience noise anxiety, but it is less commonly reported.
      • Experts theorize that because cat behavior is generally understated and independent, their fear response may go unnoticed. A cat hiding under the bed may not track as strange to its owner.
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A pet dog howls along with an accordion in a local pub in the Channel Islands. Photo by James L. Amos, National Geographic

 

  • How do veterinarians and behavior specialists recommend caring for frightened dogs this Fourth of July?
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A child and her collie watch a goose swimming with a paddling of ducks. Photo by B. Anthony Stewart, National Geographic

 

TEACHERS TOOLKIT

New York Times: A New Treatment for Dogs Scared by Thunder and Fireworks

Washington Post: For dogs terrified of fireworks, new drug aims to take the edge off of the Fourth of July

Nat Geo: Family Tree

How Stuff Works: How Fear Works

Psychology Today: Which Emotions Do Dogs Actually Experience?

 

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