Why Fireworks Scare Some Dogs but Not Others
by Courtney Sexton/Smithsonianmag.com
Ears back. Body trembling. Hiding in the bathtub or crawling under the bed. The telltale signs of a scared pup are familiar to dog owners, and they’re especially common in summer, when fireworks and thunderstorms can heighten dogs’ anxiety levels. But while the sight of a sparkler sends some dogs tail-tucked and running, others remain unfazed by booms and bangs.
To sort out this canine confusion, dog researchers around the world are investigating what makes dogs react to sounds with fear. Better understanding canine fear behaviors could improve dogs’ quality of life and even help to explain human fear responses.
The sound of fear
Dogs are known for their olfactory prowess, but sound also dictates their experience of the world. Dogs hear more than twice as many frequencies as humans, and they can also hear sounds roughly four times further away. Reacting to every sound would demand too much energy, and so dog brains must determine which sounds are significant and which can be tuned out. This “auditory flexibility” is especially important for working dogs; for example, lives depend on the ability of military dogs and detection dogs to remain calm despite the loud sounds and explosions they may encounter.