What helps with fear of fireworks?

Fireworks cause trouble for many dogs. Shortly before New Year’s Eve, advice is piling up on how to make the time more bearable for your four-legged companion.
There are countless tips, but few studies on how effective the various methods or means can be.

Stefanie Riemer from the Dog University of Bern has now examined the effectiveness of various measures. With the help of a questionnaire it was determined how often which methods are used and what successes can be achieved from the owners’ point of view.

A total of 1225 answers were evaluated. More than half of the dogs showed a serious fear of fireworks.

The following table lists how many participants* each took which countermeasure:
Counter conditioning 694
relaxation training 433
Drugs 202
Sound CDs 377
Pressure vests 300
Bach Flowers 281
Homeopathic remedies 250
Essential oils 183
pheromones 316
Herbal products 282
Food supplements 211

Here you can see the percentage of owners who observed a positive effect with the corresponding method:
By owners reported effect of various remedies and methods against New Year’s Eve anxiety. The graph clearly shows that only two of the training methods and the prescription drugs showed a noticeable improvement for the majority. In contrast, success was only rarely observed with other much-advertised methods/medications. This can then be explained by the placebo effect.
Prescription drugs

In the case of prescription drugs, the effectiveness rate depended primarily on the active ingredients used. Alprazolam was prescribed most frequently, according to which an improvement in fireworks anxiety was also observed in 90% of cases. For dexmedetomidine, diazepam and trazodone, on the other hand, only an effective rate between 50 and 75% was reported. The other drugs were prescribed too rarely among the owners surveyed to be able to make a clear statement about their effectiveness.
At this point it should also be pointed out again that acepromazine is NOT suitable as a remedy for New Year’s Eve anxiety. The veterinarian Ralph Rückert writes about this on his blog:

Training Methods

Above all, counter-conditioning – i.e. combining fireworks with pleasant stimuli such as food or play – proved to be very effective. More than 2/3 of the interviewed owners could notice an improvement.
The reported success rate in relaxation training was just as high. Here the dog should first relax in a calm situation. This can also be supported by stroking and light massage. When the dog is completely relaxed, the situation is linked to a signal, for example a word or a sound. After successful conditioning, this signal can help the dog to relax more easily even in stressful situations. Of course, the training must be done in very small steps.

It is important that preventive training is also worthwhile! In a second study, Stefanie Riemer was able to show that dogs with which noise fears were already trained at puppy age hardly develop fear of fireworks. But also in adulthood preventive training – i.e. before the fear of fireworks actually occurs – led to significantly reduced fear reactions. Dogs without prior training, on the other hand, often suffered from a strong fear of fireworks.
Dogs that have already undergone preventive training against noise fear as puppies or in adulthood show less pronounced fireworks fear than dogs that have not been trained.
Pressure jackets and noise CDs

Only 44% of the owners whose dogs wore a thundershirt or similar products could observe positive effects in the reactions to fireworks. It is unclear to what extent this rate of effectiveness can be explained by a possible placebo effect (see also below) or whether it can be explained by the presence of a placebo effect.

Do dog breeds differ in their perception of pain?

Is clicker training more effective