Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Aside from being insightful lyrics to a popular song on the radio, boom boom pow is the sound fireworks will be making this weekend sending some dogs off on a dead sprint in the opposite direction. Noise phobias are quite common in dogs this time of year with Fourth of July celebrations and thunderstorms. Another example of noise phobia would be a gun-shy hunting dog ... obviously a career-limiting quality if steps are not taken to correct the fear. Let me tell you, I've had a couple dogs with noise phobias.
My dad assures me that he trained several successful hunting dogs before I came around, but the following is the tale of my first and last time hunting with the assistance of a dog. "Rouser," our young English Springer Spaniel, and I were being treated to our first hunting trip with my dad, and I think I just walked along ... too young to even carry a gun. Rouser was trained and ready to go, so we piled into the Oldsmobile station wagon and headed to the woods full of anticipation and excitement for our first hunt together. A warm fall day, we left the windows of the car halfway down, and Rouser and I followed my dad deep into the woods far from view of the car. It wasn't long before a bird was kicked up and shots were fired. At this point, one expects to see their well-trained loyal canine companion loping through the underbrush faithfully retrieving their master's bird. What we saw was nothing. Rouser was nowhere to be found. Whether this made my dad nervous or not I'm not sure, because even though I wanted to drop everything and assemble a search party to find my poor lost dog, he figured Rouser would eventually find us and we should keep hunting for awhile. As much as I objected, we continued. As it got close to dusk my dad finally decided we should head in the direction of the car, which direction that was I had no idea. I was absolutely devastated because Rouser had not found us, and I could see our car about a quarter-mile ahead. We weren't going to leave without him were we? To make things worse, we weren't certain, but there appeared to be the silhouette of someone sitting in the passenger seat of the car. Cautiously we approached the car to find muddy claw marks all the way up the door and half-open window with Rouser sitting there on the seat, tail wagging and smiling from ear to ear! If you weren't familiar with the term "gun-shy" before, you are now. Rouser enjoyed a life of leisure in our backyard with no hunting responsibilities from that day forth.
A couple years ago, my dogs were with us at the lake celebrating the Fourth of July; that is until someone lit off a firework at about 5 p.m. "Molly" decided she was ready to come out of hiding at about 1 a.m., a few hours after the last firework was lit. Repeatedly calling her name was about as useless for getting her to come as it was annoying to everyone else trying to enjoy the lake that night.
Fortunately, there are a few remedies. Desensitization training, where you start with recordings of faint noises and work up to loud, sudden noises, rewarding calm behavior along the way can resolve some of these anxieties. Some people even use relaxation CDs with rain sounds so dogs learn that there is no reason to be scared. In some situations, if the anxious behavior is so severe the dog causes damage to the house or itself, we even prescribe sedatives for use during fireworks or thunderstorms. Sedating the gun-shy hunting dog probably wouldn't work so well ... they may not care about the gun going off, but they also wouldn't care about retrieving the bird!
E-mail your animal questions to