Regarding your recent column on keeping pets safe during fireworks, our solution is to ask Google to play “Dog Relaxing Music.” This also works when we will be out for a few hours and must leave our fur baby home (alone).
— Paula, Hewlett, New York
Dogs are highly-sensitive to sound, which is why they can let you know when someone is walking up the street from a mile away. In fact, dogs can hear twice as many frequencies as humans. In our overstimulated world, this biological difference can be unbelievably overwhelming for our dogs, and the main reason why dogs express fear is when they hear certain noises, like fireworks and thunderstorms.
Studies show you’re on the right track with playing music for your dog. It’s a strategy for easing anxiety that I don’t mention nearly enough; perhaps because I have had two dogs with severe noise phobia that didn't respond to it. However, research shows that classical music can reduce some canine stress behaviors. But some classical music may be too stimulating for dogs, so I recommend Through a Dog’s Ears, a canine classical music series created by psychoacoustic expert Joshua Leed, concert pianist Lisa Spector, and veterinary neurologist Dr. Susan Wagner.
According to Spector, the music in this series has lower toners, slower tempos, and simple rhythmic patterns, which appeal more to dogs. The music is supposed to be “twice as effective for soothing dogs as conventional classical selections,” he says. Their website also says they have conducted studies that have shown these specially written tunes have “reduced anxiety behavior and induced calmness in 70% of dogs in shelters or kennels, and 85% of dogs in households.” So, it’s definitely worth trying if it’s proven to help a majority of dogs.
Remember that you may have to combine music with other anxiety-reducing strategies to find your dog's sweet spot of Zen.
I have two dogs that are not even phased by fireworks. I've used a simple behavior modification approach I started when they were puppies. During the "fireworks season," I keep tiny training treats with me. When a firework is set off, I say, "Fireworks! Time for a treat," and then I give them a training treat. By the time it's the Fourth of July, they come over to me and sit expecting a treat every time a firework goes off. Once it gets dark and the colorful fireworks start, I bring them inside to keep them from being overstimulated by both sight and sound. I continue the firework “noise-treat” routine inside the house.
— Judy, East Meadow, New York
What a wonderful idea. You do have to begin this training when they are very young and before they develop a fear of fireworks and thunderstorms. But reframing what they hear and associating it with a treat is a great way to get ahead of the problem. Certainly, if every time it thundered, I got a piece of chocolate (dogs can’t have chocolate), I would definitely celebrate thunderstorms. Dogs are no different. Good job, Judy.
We have a beautiful, behaving seven-year-old Shi-tzu named Luna. She is loving and friendly with visitors to our home. She is stand-off-ish with other dogs. But when dogs appear on TV, she runs from wherever she is in the house, sits in front of the screen, and barks a lot. She has done this since she was a little puppy. If a dog appears in a commercial, she comes running from elsewhere in the house as soon as the commercial starts, even if the dog has yet to appear.
— Rebeca and Michael, Shoreham, New York, and Havelock, North Carolina
Dear Rebeca and Michael,
There's a reason for that, and we have technology to thank. Today's televisions are so sharp and clear that to many dogs, it sometimes can look and sound like there's a real dog in the house. In fact, some pet parents must monitor their dogs when watching television to make sure they don’t run into the screen while trying to chase a “ball” or “animal.”
What's most interesting in your dog’s case, though, is that your dog recognizes the commercial from the other side of the house. That's amazing, but not surprising to me since dogs easily learn to understand language and know what we want them to do. But that involves a lot of training whereas recognizing things on television does not. Clearly, you have a very intelligent, highly-observant canine whose got a good memory for commercials with dogs in them.
(Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.)
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