MANHATTAN -- During the Fourth of July holiday, some people see a side of their dog they've never seen before.
Just as the snap, crackle and pop of fireworks can be heard, Fido or Lady can go from beloved family pet to Tasmanian devil dog. All it takes is the unexpected bang of a fire cracker.
"We're talking about two types of fear. There are those animals who are just afraid and may come to you and shake or sit at your feet and whine. Or there are those dogs with extreme fear, or phobias," said Dr. William Fortney, professor of clinical sciences at the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. "These dogs can exhibit some bizarre, very drastic behaviors associated with that high level of anxiety and fear."
Fortney said he's heard of dogs crashing through windows and screen doors, jumping off porches or taking off hysterically and running away.
If your dog reacts either way to fireworks, there are several steps to take toward solving the problem. But first be sure you don't reinforce their fearful behavior, Fortney said.
"If your dog is afraid and comes to you and you give it a lot of nurturing, you are reinforcing that behavior," Fortney said. "If they come to you and you let them get on your lap or sleep with you or get on the couch, which is the natural thing for people to do, then you end up encouraging the fearful behavior. You need to distract them, not coddle them due to their fears."
If your dog gets frightened, you should take it for a walk or play fetch or any other type of activity your dog enjoys.
Some dogs benefit from conditioning training, said Fortney.
"During conditioning you want to take your dog to the point where they get anxious and start doing weird things," Fortney said. 'But only take them to that level, not over it. As you repeatedly stimulate them, at the same time give them positive reinforcements like praise."
For dogs frightened of fireworks, owners can have someone with a cap gun firing it in another room. As the gun is fired, praise your dog. This will desensitize it to that particular loud noise. You should start this about 30 days in advance and repeat it for 10 minutes about four times a day.
"Now what you don't want is the dog seeing the owner with the cap gun. Then it develops a fear of the gun," he said.
Some animals need to be tranquilized to get through the holiday, Fortney said.
"I think if your dog is afraid of fireworks you need to discuss it with your veterinarian and decide where you want to go," Fortney said. "The veterinarian can give you some good advice."
Prepared by Leigh Anne Nicholson. June 1996
May be reproduced without permission.