Retrospective analysis of the treatment of firework fears in dogs

Dog appeasing pheromones and sound recordings can both help to tackle dogs' fear of fireworks

source: D.S. Mills et al
Veterinary Record vol 153 no 18, November 1 2003
starts p 561, 2 pages long

There has been little work on the effectiveness of treatments for dogs that suffer from fear of fireworks, though some work has been carried out on dog appeasing pheromone (DAP) in a controlled study. This research examines the effectiveness of three therapies, DAP, audio recording desensitisation, and psychoactive drugs. The dogs came from an English vet practice, which developed the sound recordings, and gave clients a CD with instructions on its usage. The dogs' owners could choose between therapies, and combine them. They were also given suggestions on the management of the dog when there were firework sounds, for example they were told to ignore their dogs if the dogs showed signs of anxiety.

The practice asked 200 owners to complete a questionnaire, and this yielded 48 usable returns, relating to 21 bitches and 27 dogs. These were 19 terrier-type dogs, 11 pastoral breeds, nine gun dogs, six hounds, one utility, one toy, and one that could not be classified. The mean age was 6.4 years, with a range from three years-old to 13-years-old. of the total of 48 dogs. The average (mean) length of time that the dogs had shown fear of fireworks was five years, with a range between six months and 13 years. Fearful reactions to other noises were noted by owners of 37 of the 48 dogs..

Psychoactive drugs (diazepam or acepromazine) were used by 14 owners, 32 used DAP, and 32 used the CD audio recording, with 21 owners using both DAP and the CD. One notable result is that psychoactive drugs appear to be ineffective, with no significance difference between dogs receiving these drugs, and dogs not receiving them. Owners using these drugs also appeared less likely to obey the instruction to ignore anxious dogs, and were also not as likely to make sure their dogs were relaxed prior to putting on the CD, and not as likely to use the CD every day. Medication should not be used in place of behaviour therapy, and this research reinforces concerns that owners using such drugs may be less compliant over instructions on ways to modify their dogs' behaviour.

Both DAP and CD sound recordings appear to be effective ways of tackling dogs' fear of fireworks. Owners who used both DAP and the CD noted that the dogs sought their owners less, became less vigilant, less restless, and salivated less. Owners who used DAP alone did not report a significant reduction in dogs seeking their owners or bolting. The results suggest that if owners want to control these behaviours, DAP should be used together with systematic desensitisation. There are a number of potential differences in the effects of these treatments. Owners who used DAP alone, for example, reported a reduction in dogs' tendencies to be startled, hide or vocalise, while owners who used the CD reported that their dogs were less restless. More research is needed to investigate these apparent differences between the effects of treatments. This study does indicate that the problem of dogs fearing fireworks cannot be tackled just by prescribing medication on its own.