Whether for the Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve, or another celebration, many dog owners deal with howling, barking, and generally anxious dogs during fireworks. It’s even largely believed that Independence Day is the day when the highest number of dogs run away. But just what are the dogs afraid of?
“It can be the smell. It can be the noise and the flashes of the light,” says Judy Morgan, DVM, of Dr. Judy Morgan’s Naturally Healthy Pets based in Woodstown, New Jersey. Your dog may “tremble, shake, shiver, howl, and bark — some of them get frantic.”
If you are unsure of how your new dog might react, Morgan says that pups that don’t cope well during thunderstorms are likely to get scared of fireworks. The good news is that there are steps you can take to help your dog. Here are nine expert-approved tips to prevent your dog from freaking out during fireworks.
1. Keep Your Dog Away From Fireworks
“First of all, don’t take your dogs to fireworks shows,” says Morgan. “And don’t leave them outside during fireworks.” Keeping your dog inside in the evening on the Fourth of July is the best idea, especially if you fear they might not react well.
2. Make Sure Your Pet Has Proper ID
Ensure that the information on your pet’s collar is current and make sure your dog is microchipped and has a GPS device. “If they escape, there’s a better chance they’ll get returned,” says Morgan.
3. Create a Safe Haven For Your Dog
Morgan recommends creating a place where your dog will (hopefully) feel comfortable. “You should get your pet used to a calming environment beforehand. Dogs are den animals — they’re looking for that cave to get away from it all.”
Try setting up an area in a quiet space away from windows — such as a basement or a larger closet — so that they can’t hear or see fireworks. Use a crate if that’s where your dog feels safe, and make sure to provide your pup with familiar toys and treats (Morgan will freeze bone broth in ice cube trays).
4. Play White Noise
You can try leaving a fan, TV, or radio on to help mask the sounds of the fireworks. “There’s some classical music called ‘Through A Dog’s Ear’ that has been shown to have calming effects for dogs,” says Jenn Stanley, certified behavior consultant and professional dog trainer, and co-owner of Awesome Pawsabilities Pet Training & Behavior Consultations based in North Carolina.
5. Comfort Your Dog
If you can, try staying home with your dog or leaving them in the hands of a trusted person. One of Morgan’s relatives usually stays with her dog in the closet to help soothe the animal.
“You absolutely can and should comfort your dog if he’s afraid,” says Stanley. “The key here is in how you do so. It’s important to remain calm and use a soothing, even tone. Petting them can be comforting — long, slow, firm strokes along the length of their body are typically very soothing.”
The one thing to avoid? Seeming frantic in any way, says Stanley. Rapidly saying, “It’s OK, it’s OK, it’s OK” in a higher-than-average pitch may make your dog think that there really is something to fear. Try your best to remain calm and reassuring to help your canine companion.
6. Walk Them Before the Fireworks Start
Head out for your long walk before the sun sets to increase the chances that you’ll avoid the sounds. When you do go out, you’ll want to ensure your dog is secure on a leash before your walk.
“Double-check the fit of your dog’s collar or harness before going outside. A leash, even if you have a fenced-in area, is a great added safety measure to help keep your dog close to you and under control should they get startled,” says Stanley.
7. Desensitize Your Dog to the Sounds of Fireworks
If you suspect your dog will freak out at the sound of fireworks, try playing sounds of fireworks (softly) so your dog is used to hearing them. Try pairing a video of the sounds of fireworks with a treat your dog likes, suggests Stanley, in a process called counter-conditioning.
“The volume should be low enough that your dog can notice it, but does not show signs of stress like panting, pacing, leaving the area or trying to hide,” says Stanley. “We call this keeping the dog ‘below threshold,’ and it makes it possible for learning to take place. If the dog is overwhelmed, they’re looking to escape the situation and are not going to be nearly as capable of learning that it’s not a threat.” Her other tips including increasing the volume gradually, varying the source of the sound, and using different recordings.
8. Talk to Your Vet
If your pet’s anxiety is severe, consider booking an appointment with your vet well in advance of July 4 so you can discuss a medication that could help soothe your dog’s anxiety. “If you have a dog that is bad enough and you haven’t done any prep work, and you know your pet is going to be in panic, try true therapeutic treatment,” says Morgan. You can also ask about trying over-the-counter CBD, dog calming treats or dog anxiety vests.
9. Consider Hiring a Trainer
If fear is negatively impacting your pup’s life, consider enlisting the expertise of a trainer, says Stanley. “You can work with a trainer or behavior consultant to desensitize your dog to fireworks or other fears gradually — it’s never too soon to start planning for next year.”
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