As we get ready to ring in the new year, keep in mind that many people insist on celebrating with random, skyward gunfire. Not only is this illegal practice horribly unsafe, it's also extremely unsettling to dogs who are noise-sensitive.
To help your pet stay safe throughout the Jan. 1 celebration, consider the following tips:
If you don't know how your dog will react to the sound of gunfire, it's recommended that you take extra precaution to keep him safe. Dogs with phobic reactions to certain sounds can easily panic and injure themselves in the process. Many panicked dogs find ways to escape from their yards or homes - including crashing through plate-glass windows - and can be further injured or killed while running loose. Be sure your dog is wearing a properly fitting collar with current contact information.
If your dog will be home alone and has been confinement-trained keep him confined in an escape-proof area like a crate or baby-gated in a laundry room or other small, dog-proofed area. Use the area where you think he'll be most comfortable, based on where he chooses to spend time under normal circumstances. Keep windows closed and turn up the radio or television to help insulate your home from exterior sounds. Leave him with something wonderful to do -- like extract his entire dinner from a stuffed KONG or similar food-delivery device.
If your dog will be celebrating with you, consider withholding some or all of his dinner to keep him hungry as the clock approaches midnight. Arm yourself with wonderful treats (cooked meat, cheese, etc.) and let him begin to gobble up treats (you can hand-feed or toss individually on the floor) starting several seconds before the clock strikes twelve and for however long the law-breaking community members continue the gunfire. Don't spend too much time coddling him if he seems worried. Calm petting and reassurance is fine, but if he'll eat a treat, it's better to spend your energy reinforcing his desire to eat rather than focusing on how pitiful he looks when worried.
For multiple dog families, if one dog already exhibits a fearful of phobic response to the sound of gunfire, be sure to separate the dogs so that the non-fearful dog doesn't "catch" the fear. In dogs, fear and aggression can be very contagious. This is especially important for young dogs who frequently look to older dogs in the household for information.
If you discover your dog does exhibit a fearful response to gunfire, he may also be equally fearful of fireworks and thunderstorms. Working with a qualified trainer can help. Systematic desensitization and counter-conditioning throughout the year can often improve a fearful dog's response to certain noises. If you already know your dog reacts fearfully to certain noises such as gunfire, over-the-counter calming remedies such as Rescue Remedy or melatonin can help, along with T-Touch massage or an anxiety wrap. In extreme cases, you may need to treat the phobia pharmaceutically with the help of a vet or veterinary behaviorist.
With a little pre-planning, you and your dog can enjoy ringing in the new year.