The Dog Days of Summer


I hope you and your companion animals all survived Independence Day, the least favorite holiday of many of us dog owners. I live close to a casino that not only puts on its own fireworks show, but invites people from the surrounding area – where setting off fireworks is prohibited by county law – to set off their own fireworks in the casino parking lot. Oy! Inadvertently, we moved to a twice-a-year war zone (there are also lots of fireworks getting set off on New Year’s Eve.)

Otto was the one dog in my family who, late in life, developed a severe fear of fireworks. Having passed last month, he didn’t have to suffer through this experience again. And, fortunately, my 7-year-old dog Woody couldn’t care less about the booms, crackles, and flashes in the sky. The data is not yet clear whether Boone, my 1 ½-year-old dog, will develop a fear of fireworks. Last year, when he was just a pup, he paid them no mind. This year, he was concerned at the loudest noises, and kept close to me throughout the night, but didn’t develop the full-on wide-eyed, panting panic that Otto displayed in the years before he lost the ability to hear the racket.

Though the last of my foster puppies had spent the previous week on the adoption row at the shelter, I was hosting the final four of them over the long holiday weekend that the shelter was closed, so they didn’t have to spend all of those days in a tiny kennel without the possibility of meeting potential adopters. While they ordinarily sleep in a doghouse in a pen outside my house, I didn’t want them exposed to the July 4 cacophony. I kept them with Boone and me in my office, with a ceiling fan whirring and the evaporative cooler roaring and music playing for good measure. They looked mildly concerned at the loudest booms, but around midnight things finally quieted enough outdoors that I was able to turn off all the noise-masking measures and get some sleep.

The morning after the 4th, I brought the puppies back to the shelter, and I hope they get adopted soon. I think we can all agree that all puppies are cute, but some are cuter than others – and these are not the cutest puppies I’ve ever fostered. They don’t resemble any easily identifiable breeds, which makes it more difficult to market them. We can point to their mother, who is also still at the shelter (more about that in a moment), but she’s not the cutest dog, either, though she has a sweet personality and is a great size: about 30 pounds. (I find that’s sort of a sweet spot in size for people who don’t want a small or a large dog.) But she’s also sort of funny-looking; she has a small head and a pointy nose with a bit of an underbite, like the dog in The Simpsons. So the shelter staffers have not been pointing out the puppies’ parentage, but simply mentioning that their mom is about 30 pounds.

The mothers of both litters of puppies I have been fostering are heartworm-positive; whomever takes them home is also going to have to take them through treatment for their heartworm infections. It always takes a while to find adopters who are ready and able to take on that responsibility and cost for a new dog. This shelter, like most, lacks the funding to treat heartworm-positive dogs, though they start pre-treating the dogs with doxycycline, which harms Wolbachia, the bacteria that infect heartworms. This reduces the dog’s side effects caused by the death of the heartworms.  The shelter also incentivizes the adoptions of these heartworm-positive dogs by waiving adoption fees, but it can take months and months to find someone to take on this project.

This is the mother of the four pups who spent the July 4 “weekend” with me. The shelter is calling all of them “German Shepherd-mixes” – and there might be a tiny bit of German Shepherd in them! They are so mixed that I would be hard-pressed to ascribe any particular breed to them.

I have been worrying about them, and also worrying about one of the puppies, whose behavior is markedly strange. I think she is the first truly behaviorally divergent puppies I have ever fostered, in that she’s markedly uninterested in humans or whatever affection they have to offer. She is also the first pup I’ve ever fostered (out of nearly 200 over the past 15 or so years), who, when I first brought this liter home, would immediately separate from the rest of the puppies and go wandering all over my property by herself. She’d never cry or whine when she was clearly “lost,” her rambling having taken her to the far side of my two acres; she’d just lie down and nap until I found her. I quickly learned to watch her like a hawk when I brought the pups out of their pen to potty and play, so I could keep track of her perambulations and bring her back before she got too far away.

She also shows not one iota of pleasure when being held or petted, unlike the rest of the wagging, happy pups who love human attention, petting, and play. When picked up, she freezes like a wild animal, tense, with her paws curled almost into fist shapes.  She won’t make eye contact, but slowly, stiffly, turns her head away if you try to look directly at her while holding her – and holding her is the only way you can pet her; she backs away and runs away if you reach toward her.

Fortunately, she does like treats, and will come and sit politely with the rest of the puppies for treats – the one behavior that all my foster pups learn while they stay with me, whether for a day or more than months. And while she always sits at the back of the group so she can make a quick getaway with her treats, in recent weeks, I’ve been insisting that each pup tolerate a light touch on the back with one hand before they can take the treat I’m offering with the other hand. That’s increased her tolerance for being touched – but I don’t think there’s any way that she’s going to be chosen over the puppies who are pro-social and affectionate. I see a potential longer-term fostering project in my future.


  1. I believe it is. If its a neurological disorder present at birth, I don’t see why dogs can’t be autistic also. We adopted a shelter dog 4 years ago who we believe is autistic. The shelter had him on tranquilizers when we adopted him because his screaming while caged was intolerable to the workers. He has all the behaviors Nancy describes in the puppy. It has taken 4 years for him to become attached to me and my husband. He still avoids eye contact when either of us tries to look in his eyes. He is totally unmotivated by food and has strange eating issues. We love him and see improvements with happiness when he does improve. But I doubt most adopters would.

  2. Some of the behavior reminds me of the wolf behavior (as compared with dog behavior) identified by the North Carolina State University Veterinary Program. This was recently displayed on a 60 minutes segment contrasting the two species. They discussed items like no-eye-contact, separation behavior, and lots of other human-oriented behavior that we associate with companion animals.

  3. I’m so interested to see how this divergent puppy develops. I worry, too, that unless that special someone comes along that is willing to work with her and accept her as she is, she will not get adopted soon.

    We survived the 4th, barely. The city hosts fireworks about a mile from my house every year. I have 3 dogs and several rescue parrots, and only one of my dogs is fearful of the noise…usually. But over the years, our next door and across the street neighbors have seemingly been in a competition for who can have the loudest fireworks. This year was the worse ever, with both of them blowing off commercial grade explosive and aerial fireworks. We had air cleaners running high, music, TV, all to try and drown out the noise, which sounded like artillery and mortar fire. Two of my dogs slept through it, but Kaylee, even on Trazadone, was a mess. I thought her heart would burst from her chest. And once it started, there was no way she would willingly go outside to the car for a ride. My parrots were pretty freaked as well. We have a small house, so it’s not like I can move everyone to a quieter space. I’m truly considering renting an RV next year and heading for the hills.

  4. My chow/Staffie/golden mix, Roxy, is terrified of fireworks and thunder and in my neighborhood the noise starts in late June and goes on sporadically until late July. She pants, drools and paces and tries to climb on me. The only thing that has worked to calm her is the by-prescription-only medication Sileo. I first read about it in Whole Dog Journal three or four years ago. I consider it a miracle drug.

  5. It’s possible that the pup is genetically shy. I adopted two genetically shy dogs (different litters from the same genetically shy father, who they thought was just unsocialized until the pups started turning out the same). The second one, Piglet (who readers might remember), was quasi-feral when I adopted her at ten months of age. She was never aggressive and I could handle her without danger when needed, but it took her three months to voluntarily let me touch her, and six months to bond to me. We had a great relationship after that, loving and trusting and fun, but she would never allow strangers to touch her, and would always scout out the exit routes whenever we went anywhere new. She was such a great dog in so many ways, it just took longer to get there. If someone is patient, that may well happen with this shy puppy as well.

  6. I am very interested in how this one pup comes along. I adopted a nine week old puppy a year and a half ago with the same behaviors. He didn’t want to be petted or held and would go to.another area when we went to love on him. He would yawn nervously when we did touch him. He never approached us with a wagging tail or even approached us at all. I did think he had some form of autism.

    The good news is that we have worked very diligently to progressively get him used to touching and loving. Many many hours of gentle patient caring. He now accepts love readily and will turn over for belly rubs. He loves to have his ears rubbed and has recently even been letting me brush him when he is lying down. He is turning out to be a great dog in his own special way.

    He still doesn’t even get up or look at us in greeting in the mornings. Nor does he want to come cuddle on the couch. But he is attached to us and keeps his eyes on us all the time and wants to be with us ……just not in a touchy feely kind of way.

    The one time he does show great joy and enthusiastic tail wagging and greeting is if we leave in the car and come home. He just goes nuts to greet us when we arrive.

    He is also very treat oriented, which has been a Godsend, since he could care less if we praise him for doing what we ask.

    All in all he is turning into a wonderful friend and companion and we love him dearly. So don’t give up on the puppy, he just needs the right match with a patient loving companion.

  7. I have a rescue (hound) that was semi-feral and she has been terrified of both T-storms and fireworks, loud trucks, gun pops, etc. She has become better but this time I bought a cap for her (Quiet Ears) from Amazon. It was about $10 at the time. It wasn’t as thick as I’d hoped so I took some old shoulder pads from my 80s outfits LOL and sewed them in to increase the padding over and around her ears. It was like a miracle. She couldn’t hear anything. She slept peacefully through the night despite all the racket outside. You just have to make sure the padding is thick enough or putting a cotton pad in the outside ear area to prevent noise from getting to the ear. Someone crafty could probably make one themselves using a gaitor and some cotton batting. May not work for all dogs but it was nice to have her sleep through July 4th. I may make one for myself!

  8. I have been lucky in that none of my dogs has been fearful of fireworks. This year, however both Freyja Grey and Diana pawPrints were suddenly extra clingy on the Fourth. No visible fear, crying, whining, hiding or reactions except for looking up and staying really close to me, like shadows. I basically ignored the fireworks and went about my business like nothing was wrong, but I did spend some extra time with them just sitting in one spot and letting them stay close by, talking to them and doing some extra petting, plus a few treats. If they get worse or better, I guess I’ll know by New Year’s.