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As Americans prepare to celebrate their independence from England with barbeques, beach time and fireworks, it is important to remember that our furry friends are often terrified by the sound of explosives being shot in the air.

Ever get the feeling that your dog knows you are home before you even walk through the door?  They do! Long before your key enters the lock, your canine companion has heard the idling of your engine, the opening and closing of your car door, and the sounds that your feet make as they shuffle up the front path. Dogs have exceptional hearing!!! In fact, they can hear the ultrasonic frequencies that humans are unable to hear.

Call to mind your furry friend’s response to a seemingly silent dog whistle or to the high-pitched whirls of the vacuum cleaner—which emits a shrill, high-frequency sound that is universally disliked by dogs who have audio sensitivities. In general, the signals that dogs hear are much higher and lower than what the human ear can process.  Dogs receive frequencies between the range of 40 to 60,000 Hz, while the average human hears between 20 and 20,000 Hz.  This variance causes a stress response in dogs when they are exposed to blaring noises like fireworks, thunder or the vacuum monster.

Fear of loud sounds is common in dogs and while you might enjoy the local fireworks display this 4th of July, chances are your pet will not.

Why Dogs Hear Better Than Humans

Deep down, I’d like to think that man’s best friend has been gifted with ultrasonic hearing to make up for the fact that they don’t have thumbs and cannot see in color. However, it’s much more likely that their excellent hearing is a result of the evolutionary traits that made hunting prey and evading predators possible for hounds in the wild. The physiological characteristics that give dogs their superior hearing can be attributed to the following:

A Good Point- While human ears are situated flatly on the sides of the head, canines have ears on the top of their heads which are much larger than a human’s and often erect. The actual shape of a healthy dog’s ear determines just how well it can hear.  As we cup our ears to collect more sound waves, some dogs ears are already in that position. Among the diversity of dog breeds, those with pointy ears can actually hear better than dogs with floppy or exceptionally hairy ears.

Muscles–  Dogs have over 18 muscles in their ears and each of them works to rotate, tilt, raise or lower their ears.  Much like a mobile antenna, dogs can contract or expand the muscles in their ears to hone in on sounds and locate their exact origin.

Built-in Sound Filters-  For the most part, humans hear a sound with both of their ears and can only determine the general direction of its origin. Dogs, on the other hand, hear sound through each individual ear. This means that your dog can listen to you with one ear while hearings a squirrel playing in the trees outside with its other ear. Because of their uncanny hearing, canines can selectively pay attention to various noises or filter out sounds like a loud television when they are dozing in the living room. Perhaps you have noticed that your dog can sleep through an action film in surround sound but will still jump up to beg for a treat when the popcorn begins to pop?

Though dogs have the ability to selectively listen, their filters are not enough to prevent the frightening sounds of fireworks or shotguns from being heard. According to recent studies, about 40 percent of canines experience some type of noise anxiety when exposed to loud or high-frequency sounds.

How to protect your Dogs (and Cats) From Fireworks

Though the majority of pet owners who report problems with their pets on the 4th of July have dogs, cats are not immune to audio sensitivity. In fact, the main reason that cat owners do not report odd behavior in felines during firework season has to do with the way cats process fear. Unlike dogs, who according to a 2013 study express visual symptoms of fear in the following ways:

  • Shaking

  • Panting

  • Scratching

  • Anxious pawing

  • Trembling

  • Hiding

  • Seeking comfort

  • Urination

  • Salivation

  • Destruction

Cats prefer to panic beneath furniture or inside confined areas.  No matter the pet, there are several ways to drown out the popping sounds of fireworks. Consider the following:

  1. Keep pets inside during the fireworks show and secure all exits.

  2. Make sure to give your pet plenty of exercise during the day so that they don’t have too much pent-up energy.

  3. Create an environment that your pet will like— Set up their bed, lay out their favorite toys, and remove anything that you do not want them to chew up.

  4. Freeze their favorite broth or fill a toy with peanut butter, treats, or catnip (note: only use catnip if your pet is a cat).

  5. Try a comfort shirt that wraps around your pet and feels like a hug (you can find directions on how to make your own here).

  6. Turn on loud music or your pet’s favorite movie to distract them from the noise outside.

  7. Stay home to support them (we know that this one is tough, but if your pet is old or prone to anxiety attacks, sometimes it is best to keep them company). 

  8. Ask your local vet about a mild sedative.

The Havasi Wilderness Foundation wishes you and your family a happy Independence Day.  This 4th of July, we hope that you stay safe and remember to protect your environment by cleaning up your litter, considering wildlife in your area, and recycling plastics to keep them out of the ocean. We want to continue sharing news and stories with the world. To support our work, please consider a tax-deductible donation.

Panda, the HWF founder’s dog. Photo Credit: Permission from SunWest Studio, Ventura, California

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