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Do you Believe in Dog? (2018). Powered by Blogger.

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


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.

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?
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.

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!


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.

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 
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27 December 2012

Fireworks: not fun for everyone (or every dog)

Hi Julie,

I hope you have had a lovely Christmas, we certainly did! The sun has been shining and we’ve enjoyed seeing our friends and family over the past few days.

I’ve got my eye on New Year’s Eve now that Christmas has passed, but not because I’m planning a big night out. It’s all to do with fireworks

My two dogs demonstrate very different reactions to fireworks. One used to default into a shaking ball and tuck herself away into a corner somewhere (usually under my desk or next to my bed). 

The other prefers to charge around, barking at the sky as though the sound is an intruder and will continue racing and barking until the noise stops. I’m sure that in his mind, he is convinced that he (once again) successfully saved us ALL by scaring off the weird sky-noises. To his credit – it works every time. Bark long enough and the noises do go away! 

Over the years, we’ve developed strategies to help them both cope better with less anxiety and fear in these situations. Most of the time, these strategies work (or maybe they are just going deaf as they get older?!).

However, lots of dogs have a really rough time on New Year’s Eve. 

When I worked in a shelter, it was by far our busiest 24 hour period of the entire year. One year, we had more dogs enter the shelter than we physically had room to kennel (on average, we had 5-10 dogs admitted per day; on NYE, we could receive 100+!). They would end up in offices and leashed to anchor points in various locations. It was also a peak period for the associated vet clinic in treating emergencies, generally dogs hit by cars. Other dogs needed injured paws treated after running panicked along rough roads. Fortunately most dogs we reclaimed by their owners, but sadly, some were not so lucky and never made it home again.

Research conducted by the University of Bristol (UK) in 2005, showed that nearly half of the owners surveyed reported their dogs were frightened of loud noises. Of these dogs, fireworks were reported (in 83% of dogs) to cause fearful behaviours more than any other loud noise (e.g. thunderstorms). These figures are consistent with a later study conducted in New Zealand, published in 2010.

    What behavioural signs indicate fear in dogs?

    •     Trembling/Shaking
    •     Barking/Howling
    •     Hiding
    •     Destructive behaviour
    •     Seeking out people
    •     Scratch door/Escape
    •     Toilet/defecate

    Interestingly, This study suggested a link between the time of year dogs were born and fearful behaviour to loud noises (i.e. if they were likely to have heard fireworks when puppies, they were reportedly less likely to show a fearful response).

    Most owners of dogs exhibiting fear behaviour to loud noises report they were unaware that professional help (from animal behaviourists or their vet) was available to assist in helping their dog, or had not pursued such help.

    Several types of treatment have been researched with various levels of success reported:

    Some of these treatments can be used in conjunction with each other.

    I couldn't find any research about the success of ear muffs! (source)
    If you have any friends facing their first New Year’s Eve with a new pet dog, it might be worth warning them that their dog might be one of the many that are sensitive to loud noises like fireworks.

    The RSPCA and ASPCA have some extremely helpful resources and tips to help dogs cope better. 

    RSPCA Victoria also have a great set of information that gives advice based on whether you will be home or not - it's even available in a handy printout

    Tell your friends!

    I don't mind fireworks, but I'm keeping very conscious of the fact my dogs don't.
    Wishing you a fabulous close to 2012 and and exciting start to 2013!


    Further reading:

    Blackwell E., Casey R. & Bradshaw J. (2005). Firework fears and phobias in the domestic dog., RSPCA / University of Bristol, Report: Link to full report here 

    Dale A., Walker J., Farnworth M., Morrissey S. & Waran N. (2010). A survey of owners' perceptions of fear of fireworks in a sample of dogs and cats in New Zealand, New Zealand Veterinary Journal, 58 (6) 286-291. DOI:

    Bowen J. (2008). Behaviour: Firework fears and phobias, Companion Animal, 13 (8) 59-63. DOI:

    Dreschel N.A. & Granger D.A. (2005). Physiological and behavioral reactivity to stress in thunderstorm-phobic dogs and their caregivers, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 95 (3-4) 153-168. DOI:

    Levine E.D., Ramos D. & Mills D.S. (2007). A prospective study of two self-help CD based desensitization and counter-conditioning programmes with the use of Dog Appeasing Pheromone for the treatment of firework fears in dogs (Canis familiaris), Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 105 (4) 311-329. DOI:

    Cracknell N.R. & Mills D.S. (2008). A double-blind placebo-controlled study into the efficacy of a homeopathic remedy for fear of firework noises in the dog (Canis familiaris), The Veterinary Journal, 177 (1) 80-88. DOI:

    Bolster C. (2012). Fireworks are no fun for pets, Veterinary Nursing Journal, 27 (10) 387-390. DOI:


    © Mia Cobb 2012
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    24 December 2012

    Best wishes for the festive season!

    With thanks from us!

    Mia & Julie x
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    21 December 2012

    Holiday gift list #2!


    You were born during such a presenty time of year! It's funny how our worlds during the holidays look so different...

    Your world looks like this:

     People think NYC looks like this:

     But it really looks like this:

    Ok, I’m being cheeky; I’m done.
    But really, sometimes I’m amazed by how much we’re on the same page DESPITE our different landscapes! Here’s my holiday gift list, good for those with two- and four- legs...

    1) Camp Unleashed!!
    First on my list: Take a trip with your dog! (I’m not kidding, it’s really just a coincidence that we both put that). I’ve been hoping to go to Camp Unleashed for quite some time, and still haven’t been yet. That being said, I still highly recommend it! I know this is more of a USA suggestion, but like you said, the concept holds true no matter where  you are. Camp Unleashed has two locations, one in Asheville, North Carolina, and the other is in The Berkshires, Massachusetts. I know Kim Brophey, the Behaviorist in Asheveille and her curriculum rocks!

    2) Play with your dog, for Science!
    I had to put that in. Project: Play With Your Dog is getting oodles of submissions, and maybe, after spending (too much) time with family, you’ll want an activity that doesn’t involve food and human-centric talking. In this case, video record YOU AND YOUR DOG playing together, and join our growing Wall of Contributors!

    Project: Play With Your Dog (our latest study at the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab)

    3) Toys that dogs will like and use 
    Okay fine, different dogs like different things, but I like the concept behind these toys, and many dogs do as well.

    4) The Gift of Comfort
    Having visitors? Does Uncle Barney sometimes play too rough? This holiday season, try not to ruffle your dog’s feathers. Here’s some suggestions on avoiding ruffled feathers.

    5) The Gift of Knowledge
    Let’s be honest, some people do bring a new dog (or cat, or rabbit, or fish) into the home over the holidays. Give your new friend the Gift of Knowledge.

    Prepare your expectations with Love has No Age Limit by Patricia McConnell and Karen London, sort of like What to Expect When You’re Expecting, only about dogs (is that a good comparison? I've never read What to Expect...)

    Preparing expectations is immensely important in getting through the newness of it all, regardless of whether it's a young or older dog. BUT it's particularly important to consider expectations when bringing an older dog into the house who "should" know not to go pee there -- there -- and oh! There too! 

    Of course, the wonderful Theo graces the cover courtesy of his awesome person, Kimberly of Eardog Productions and the blog City Dog Country Dog.

    Happy Happy Birthday and Holiday Wishes To YOU!!!!

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    18 December 2012

    'Tis the season to be Doggy, fa la la la laaaa...

    Hey Julie,

    I absolutely LOVE Project: Play with your Dog study and how the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab are crowd sourcing using citizen science! I don't think a better way of contributing to scientific understanding can possibly exist! I look forward to hearing updates about how the research goes. I will certainly participate - next time we head to the river to play, we'll take our camera to get some video!

    So you might have noticed the silly season of festivity has landed upon us... Assuming we live past Friday (and I really hope we do, because Friday is my birthday and I selfishly want the fun of a full birthday!) I thought I'd look at some ideas that might inspire gifts for the two- and four-legged doggy friends and family members in our life.


    1. Read about a Dog

    I have been re-reading Inside of a Dog recently and thoroughly enjoying it (again). 

    This book would make a fantastic gift for anyone who would like to understand more about dogs, the science looking at dogs, how it all fits together and is relevant to our shared encounters with dogs.


    2. Give a Dog

    After all those posts about the science of children and dogs I do think every child should have a dog

    But make sure it's an appropriate dog. 

    Not every household or child is suited to owning a real dog, but that can't stop you giving that special little person in your life a gorgeous handmade pooch! 

    Here are some I fell in love with on Etsy.


    3. Holiday with a dog

    It's Summertime in Australia right now and my dogs love nothing more than coming away on holiday/vacation with us to the beach. What better way to show your dog you've enjoyed their company than to include them on your trip away?

    Winter escapes can be fun for dogs too!

    It's easier than you might think to find pet-friendly accommodation in your favourite holiday destination. 

    Just head to favourite online search engine and enter 'pet friendly accommodation *insert district name here*'. 

    Alternatively just ask normal rental options if they'll allow you to bring a 4-legged friend. You might be surprised how many places will say yes if you just enquire and give them some reassurance that your dog will respect the house rules!

    4. Save a Dog

    You can impress your dog loving friends or family members by donating money to your local welfare, shelter or dog rescue group in lieu of a gift. Who really needs another recipe book when the same amount of money could help pay for care to help save a 4-legged life?
     I do love Giddy and Twinkle's words of wisdom! (source)

    If you really need a gift to wrap, most of these non-profit, volunteer-driven organisations have calendars they sell to help raise funds.

    5. Spend time with a Dog

    At the end of the day, most of our dogs just want to spend time with us

    So take time this festive season to go for that extra walk, give that extra pat, groom or game of fetch (depending on what your dog likes and if it is a game, be sure to take a video and submit it to help science!). 

    If you don't have a dog, consider volunteering at your local shelter or welfare group. The festive season is an insanely busy period for these places and they are often overrun with dogs who have strayed while their owners are away, who are scared of fireworks or who have been dumped. 

    Just volunteering your time to help clean, feed, walk and care for half a day or three could make a huge difference to the dedicated staff. These people tend to miss out on Christmas lunch with their families or New Year's Eve partying year after year because they nobly spend it looking after our 4-legged friends.

    So there you have it - my top 5 gift ideas for two- and four-legged friends this silly season. What's on your gift list?

    Wishing you and yours a safe and fun festive season this year Julie.
    Here's hoping we all make it past Friday and if we do, I'm sure 2013 is going to be a cracker!

    Fa la la la laaaa, la la la laa!

    x Mia 

    Further reading:

    Sitler R.K. (2006). The 2012 Phenomenon New Age Appropriation of an Ancient Mayan Calendar, Nova Religio, 9 (3) 24-38. DOI:

    © Mia Cobb 2012
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