Since my dogs were puppies, they’ve long had a fear of fireworks. These fur babies who are generally pretty lazy, will run and hide in the strangest of spots whenever the seasonal fireworks begin. Eventually, after a few weeks of summer, they’ll slowly get used to the sound and be able to handle it better. But, that desensitization will fade with the following summer when they are fearful yet again, and once again need to get used to that sound.
The reasons dogs don't like fireworks make sense. Dogs are animals, after all, meaning they're hardwired to fear loud, disconcerting sounds. It's not the worst survival tactic in the world! Dogs have better hearing than humans, and register frequencies we don't even know are there. A slightly jarring sound to us can sound like a large-scale invasion to them! The summer, and particularly on and around the 4th of July celebration, can be a difficult time for pups — especially for dogs that are already prone anxiety, it can be a lot to bear.
That's why we put together tips and tricks to help dogs (and you) survive the 4th of July and fireworks season. Here's what to do if your dog is scared of fireworks:
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If your dog does have a lot of anxiety because of fireworks, try to keep them calm. “You can hold them or let them sit right beside you when they are going off,” says Sara Ochoa, DVM, veterinary consultant for doglab.com.
A big part of keeping our dogs calm could be making them feel safe. For that reason, petting them will also help keep them calm. “There are calming treats that you can give your dog to help them stay calm. If your dog has very bad anxiety about fireworks, you can even ask your vet about a mild sedative to use during this time,” says Dr. Ochoa.
One of the best ways to help your dog with their firework phobia is actually through training. “Be prepared to spend time desensitizing your pup through the weeks leading up to the festivities,” says Summit Earhart, head trainer for Furry Friends Shelter to Service Dog Program.
If you are not sure how your dog will react around fireworks, seeking a professional dog trainer or behaviorist to help you do a “test run” may teach you a lot! “Setting up a controlled environment, with a professional who knows how to introduce the stimulus, would be a good way to identify any fearful or anxious behaviors in your dog,” says Earhart.
Ultimately, a knowledgeable trainer is a great asset to have if your dog is having trouble.
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Try as best as you can try to avoid having your pet be exposed to them if they are afraid. “Do not set off fireworks near your house!” says Leslie Brooks, DVM, veterinary advisor at betterpet. Obviously, you can't control what neighbors or nearby businesses do, so this is often out of your control. “If you are able to take your pet to a friend or family member's house that is in an area where fireworks will not go off, that is even better,” says Dr. Brooks.
Before the big events, you can do a few things to normalize the sounds, like playing audio recordings of fireworks. “This will help desensitize your dog to fireworks,” says Dr. Ochoa. “When you are playing these sounds just play a very short clip every day. Act like nothing is happening around your dog and try to help them stay as calm as possible,” says Dr. Ochoa.
Every day you can increase the length of the firework sound until they are perfectly fine with them. Doing something like playing sounds simulating fireworks over a speaker at a low level, gradually increasing the volume over time, rewarding for positive behavior toward the sounds, would go a long way.
Doing things like going to the park and playing ball, taking a hike, or even wrestling in the living room, will make a difference in your dog’s overall stress levels, says Earhart. Exercise is so important for our canine companions, so running those reserve tanks empty is a great idea!
You can introduce new interactive dog toys that can keep them interested and busy doing other things — double points if the toys dispense treats.
If you see a pet is nervous about fireworks, let them stay in a secure place: crates, under the bed, in the bathtub, your closet, etc. — every pet has a spot that gives them a little extra security. “Never hinder the pet from hiding, as this can undermine their trust in you,” says Claudine Sievert, a veterinarian and veterinary consultant. Let them stay in their secure place and give them a toy or a treat.
It’s important to keep a scared pet indoors, in a room with no windows and sharp objects. “When outdoors, they may escape and get lost, or injure themselves, chewing or choking on their leashes,” says Dr. Sievert.
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Purchase a Thundershirt to help give your dog that snuggly feeling throughout the night. “It is a compression shirt for dogs that acts in the same manner as swaddling a baby,” says Earhart. Think of it along the same concept as the weighted blankets popular with humans right now.
You can also seek out the help of an over the counter anxiety aide. “One of the supplements that I have, personally, had great success with is NaturVet Quiet Moments Calming Aid with Melatonin, Soft Chews,” says Earhart.
Sometimes, the difference between a stressed dog and a calm dog is in the implementation of using supplements. “There are tons of different supplements and calming aids available to us as dog parents,” says Earhart. Some boast “all natural” or “extra strength” and sometimes it is hard to sift through all of the choices. “It's never a bad idea to reach out to your trusted veterinarian for their opinion on adding new supplements to your dog’s diet. Especially if they are on any medications or have dietary restrictions,” says Earhart. There could be risk factors involved in adding a supplement to your dog’s diet if they have allergies, or sensitivities to certain foods.
If none of the above work, another option could be prescription anti-anxiety medications. “You will need to have a working relationship with a veterinarian to receive a prescription, but anti-anxiety meds are the best way to help your pet through fireworks, especially if they get very stressed out,” says Dr. Brooks.
“Depending on the severity of your pet's anxiety and fear, your vet may prescribe anything from Trazodone to Fluoxetine (Prozac) to a newer medication called SILEO, which is specifically made to help with dogs who have noise phobias,” says Dr. Brooks.