Growing up in Toledo, OH, I remember the Fourth of July being a magically majestic celebration. Every year, my family would venture down to the waterfront on the east or west bank of the Maumee River to watch the spectacular light show as fireworks were launched high into the sky from river boats. The load booms, pops, and hisses filled me with wonder and excitement. The sparkling colors shimmering across the sky precisely choreographed to blaring music was amazing to behold. Those few minutes of excitement dot my timeline as I grew from a child to an adult.
As a teenager, I witnessed my dogs as they trembled and whimpered in fright as this same spectacle that brought me much enjoyment, sent them into terror. For dogs, the fireworks experience is anything but enjoyable.
“Some dogs have no problem with the sight and sound of fireworks if they’ve been desensitized,” says dog expert Cesar Millan. Cesar adds, “Hunting dogs, for example, grow used to the sounds and smells of hunting rifles and gun powder.”
But for most dogs, the Fourth of July can be particularly frightening especially if they have not been acclimated to loud noises. Cesar said, “More pets run away on the Fourth of July than any other day, so you should take extra steps to ensure their safety.”
According to Cesar, dogs experience the world through their senses – scent, sight, and hearing (in that order). Unlike thunderstorms where dogs can sense the change in barometric pressure, fireworks are a much different event. Fireworks give off a distinct odor that we humans cannot comprehend. The loud booms also ignite the fight or flight instinct. Because of this, dogs tend to run away from the fireworks to find a place of safety. “Running away is a survival instinct,” said Cesar.
So what can you do to make the Fourth of July safer for your canine companions?
Ensure your pet is identifiable.
Animal shelters pick up numerous dogs around the Fourth of July holiday because many become strays while attempting to escape from the terror of fireworks. Ensure your dog has good identification – prominent ID tags and/or a registered microchip. These features will help ensure the safe return of your furbaby.
Arrange for a safe place.
If you know a friend or relative who will not be participating in the festivities, ask them to watch your dog for you at their home. Alternatively, you might take your dog to a familiar doggie daycare away from the noise. Whatever you do, do not take your dog to a fireworks display. Instead, stay home with your dog and stay inside to provide them comfort. You might also consider having a crate available where your dog can go to relax.
Train your dog to be comfortable.
Like hunting dogs that are unafraid of gun fire, your dog can be trained to be fearless around fireworks. Audio recordings of fireworks and thunderstorms are available to help familiarize your dog with these sounds. It will take time to train them, so plan to spend about 3 months or more playing the audio recordings while your dog is in a relaxed state. Begin by playing the sounds lightly in the background while your dog is eating. Gradually increase the volume over time. Eventually, this training will “desensitize” your dog so he is no longer fearful of fireworks.
Feed your dog early.
Offer your dog a big meal early in the day. Anxiousness brought on by fireworks will cause your dog to lose its appetite. Make sure your dog gets a good meal while the festivities have yet to begin.
Go for a long walk.
Help your dog expend energy by going on a long walk early in the day. This will help your dog relax and go into a calm state.
Use medicine or other tools.
Medicines such as anesthetics in tablet form are useful for helping your dog to relax. I list it here as a last resort because too often, pet parents go to the veterinarian for a prescription for sedatives as a first resort. Please use the other tips first and avoid medicating if possible. Alternatively, you could use all-natural herbal supplements.
Another tool you might consider is the use of a Thundershirt. Thundershirts wrap tightly around your dog providing pressure that has a calming effect. To be effective, though, Cesar Millan recommends training the dog with this tool over time. He says to put it on your dog while your dog is in a calm relaxed state. This way, your dog learns to associate calmness with the Thundershirt. Then, when you need to help your dog to become calm, you can apply the Thundershirt before the festivities begin.
These are just a few ideas to help keep your pet safe around the 4th of July. There are many other techniques. Remember, every dog is different, so what works for one dog may not necessarily work for your dog.
If you have any tips or suggestions that have worked for you, please share in the comments below.
Hartz Mountain Corporation. (2016). Dogs & fireworks: How to keep your dog calm and safe during July 4th. Retrieved June 21, 2016 from http://www.hartz.com/Dogs/Health/Medical_And_Preventive_Care/Keep%20_your_Dog_Calm_and_Safe_During_July_4th.aspx
Millan, C. (2015). Keeping your dog safe when the fireworks start. Retrieved June 21, 2016 from https://www.cesarsway.com/dog-behavior/hyperactivity-overexcitement/how-to-keep-your-dog-safe-and-calm-during-fireworks
Spector, L. (n.d.). 10 safety and calming tips for dogs during fireworks. Retrieved June 21, 2016 from https://positively.com/contributors/10-safety-and-calming-tips-for-dogs-during-fireworks/