We are just one week away from July 4th! For most people it’s a day of celebration, spending time with friends and family, barbecuing, and sipping cool drinks. For others it can be a very stressful time, especially if they have a pet that HATES fireworks. We’ve been hearing fireworks already over the weekend and I only expect to have more this week and certainly Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and of course the biggest night Monday, 4th of July!!!
The loud noises caused by fireworks are unpredictable and a sensory overload (3). Remember, dogs have more acute senses than we do and experience the world very differently. What seems to us as no big deal can be a huge deal to your dog. They may scratch at doors, gates, jump/chew on furniture, and hide.
Here are some tips to make this 4th and all other ones a less stressful one for your dog:
- 1. Proper Identification: More pets runaway on the Fourth of July than any other day (1), so it is important to make sure s/he has a collar with a proper ID tag, if they are microchipped even better! Some dogs seem to channel the great Houdini when it comes to being able to get out, so do yourself a favor and make it easier to find them in case they do manage to escape.
- 2. Check yourself: Our dogs take cues from us, so…RELAX!! If you are anxious and afraid, they will take that as a sign that there is something to be scared of. Dogs don’t speak English, Spanish, or French, they speak energy and body language. Be mindful of what your energy is saying to the dog and take deep belly full breaths to calm yourself down. If you are calm, you are more likely to be in a better place to help your dog.
It takes time to desensitize your dog to loud noises, so if you’re like me and completely forget about it during the rest of the year…it’s OK!! You’re still a good person, honestly, you are.
- 3. Create a place where they can feel safe: If they are crated, make sure their favorite toy is in there or a Kong filled with something tasty (2) and maybe move it into a room farthest from the street. Put a blanket over the crate so that it feels safe and cozy. If they aren’t crated, they will more than likely find their own spot, maybe underneath the bed. Put blankets down and play some loud relaxing music to help drown out the noise as much as possible. There are many products out there for music designed specifically to reduce canine anxiety, a quick on-line search will give you many options. Please don’t force your dog to come out of their hide-y-hole if they aren’t ready, this will only deepen their fear, simply allow them to remain in their safe space.
- 4. Treats: Treats can be a great tool to help your dog have a positive association with fireworks. But you must time it so that you are rewarding them for being calm and relaxed and not when they are frightened and cowering. If you give treats, make sure you are giving it to them when they are calm, if they are shaking, scratching, or jumping it’s probably not the best time. And if their fear is really deep they probably won’t eat. Good questions to ask are: What behavior am I rewarding with this treat? Is the behavior I am rewarding one I want them to repeat? If it’s a positive behavior or you answered yes then give them one !! If it’s a negative behavior or you answered no, don’t give a treat!!
- 5. Desensitize them to loud noises: Best way to have your dog not be scared is to start before it starts (no, really!) This isn’t something that can be trained in one day, it may take months for your dog to feel relaxed to loud noises. Playing fireworks, horn, or siren calls at an increasing volume before play time, a walk, or affection can help condition them to associate the noises as good. But again, this may take some time so be patient with your dog and with yourself and use this technique along with the others listed here.
- 6. Exercise your dog– A tired dog is a happy dog. If you’re dog has a lot of excess energy it will only make things worse. No one is saying to run a marathon with the dog (unless you do…kudos to you!) But a nice long walk, a play date, or playing fetch will help drain some of their energy. We have trained many dogs on the treadmill and a good solid walk or run makes a HUGE difference. Excess energy will bring them to an anxious level more quickly and will make it more difficult to calm them down.
- 7. Sedating/Thundershirts Some people report positive results using the Thundershirt (http://www.thundershirt.com/). The Thundershirt applies a gentle constant pressure, similar to swaddling an infant and they report an 80% success rate. This helps them feel safe and secure. Some dogs no matter what you do will be very anxious and may actually benefit from medication. Over the counter Benadryl may provide a sedative like effect, but it’s important to talk to a veterinarian for proper dosage and proper use (4). There are stronger medications available that are especially made for animals to reduce anxiety but again, please consult a veterinarian. While we all want easy, safe, and fast results there is no magic cure for this!! Be patient with yourself and with your dog and do your best. There are plenty of dogs who aren’t afraid of fireworks and if you have one of these..hooray! We all secretly hate you…just kidding! That’s awesome, enjoy your 4th!! But if you’re dog is like mine and would rather crawl into a hole than be exposed to fireworks, I hope some of these tips are helpful so that you and your pup can have a safe and calm Independence Day.
What about you? Not every dog is the same so what have you tried on your pup to help with the Independence Day blues?
- Millan, Cesar. “Keeping Your Dog Safe When the Fireworks Start.” Cesar’s Way. N.p., 17 June 2015. Web. 16 June 2016. <https://www.cesarsway.com/dog-behavior/hyperactivity-overexcitement/how-to-keep-your-dog-safe-and-calm-during-fireworks>.
- Spector, Lisa. “10 SAFETY AND CALMING TIPS FOR DOGS DURING FIREWORKS.” Positively. Victoria Stilwell, n.d. Web. 15 June 2016. <https://positively.com/contributors/10-safety-and-calming-tips-for-dogs-during-fireworks/>.
- “Why Are Dogs Scared of Fireworks? 11 Things You Should Know.” Purina. N.p., 2 July 2014. Web. 16 June 2016. <https://www.purina.com/dogs/behavior-and-training/why-are-dogs-scared-of-fireworks-11-things-you-should-know>.
- REVIEW-JOURNAL, John PrzybysLAS VEGAS. “Vets Offer Tips to Help Dogs Avoid Fireworks Freak-outs.” Las Vegas Review-Journal. N.p., 01 July 2012. Web. 16 June 2016. <http://www.reviewjournal.com/life/pets/vets-offer-tips-help-dogs-avoid-fireworks-freak-outs>.8. http://www.bachrescueremedypet.com/
1 & 2.”10 Tips to Keep Your Dog Safe during July 4th Fireworks | Seattle DogSpot.” Seattle DogSpot. N.p., 24 June 2015. Web. 21 June 2016. <http://www.seattledogspot.com/dog-health-wellness/10-tips-to-keep-your-dog-safe-during-july-4th-fireworks/>.
- Barton, Dan J. “7 Things You Should Know about Dogs and Fireworks.” Splash and Dash For Dogs. N.p., 30 Dec. 2015. Web. 21 June 2016. <http://splashanddashfordogs.com/blog/2015/12/30/7-things-you-should-know-about-dogs-and-fireworks/>.