“…and the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air…”
I love the Fourth of July, watching a fireworks display lighting up the dark sky. However, my golden retrievers do not react the same way. Sadie is pragmatic; she just walks away from the noise and all is good. Marley, on the other hand, prefers to get close to me, pants and paces; he doesn’t like the celebration at all. Maybe it is because he is a rescue who lived outside or maybe I am making excuses. Millions of dogs are frightened of fireworks. Anatomically their hearing is so much better than ours (40 kHz vs. 20 kHz). Those loud pops and flashes of light must sound overwhelming to them.
Puppies especially are unpredictable and sometimes insecure. Observe how your pup reacts to loud noises. Don’t leave her alone until you know how she will react. Make sure your fur baby feels safe and secure.
First let’s look at the common reactions dogs have to loud noises:
- Barking, howling or whining
- Hiding or seeking out familiar people
- Trembling, shaking, panting, pacing and salivating
- Destructive Behavior
- Peeing or Defecating
- Running/Fleeing (the worst response)
Here are Nine Tips to Keep Your Dog Calm:
This is a no-brainer. Do not take your dog to fireworks displays. It is not fun for a dog. Avoid setting any fireworks off close to the house. Besides severe burns on the face and paws, even unused fireworks contain toxic substances.
July 5th is the busiest day of the year at animal shelters. There’s a 30 – 60% increase in lost pets July 4-6. Only 14% of lost pets are reunited with their owners. If the unthinkable happens, an up-to-date name tag and microchip increase the odds your pet returns to your loving arms. The tag and microchip should contain your latest contact information. Don’t have your pet microchipped? Check out your local humane society; most offer discounted microchip service. Your veterinarian can also implant one quickly and easily.
3. Stay Inside
Not you necessarily, but bring your dog inside the cool comfort of your home during the celebration. It will put your pooch at ease and reduce the risk he might jump the fence or run into the street. Keep the windows, doors and curtains closed. This helps muffle noise and keeps your dog seeing flashing lights that might scare him. One caveat: don’t crate your dog. He’ll still be fearful when in the crate and is likely to injure himself while attempting to escape the crate.
Turn on the TV or radio. Besides softening the pops and crackles outside, a constant source of noise might help calm your fur baby. Soothing classical music has been shown to work best. Try playing the music a couple of hours before the festivities start so your dog associates it with calm and comfort.
Give what? A blanket, some exercise earlier in the day, a treat or her favorite toy. Stuff and freeze a Kong, bone or consider other long lasting interactive chews like bully sticks, stuffed marrow bones or Nylabones. How do you stuff a Kong? Check out this video from Vetstreet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVSpG5h1dqs
NOTE: Some dogs are too nervous to eat. If none of these suggestions work, don’t force her to accept your goodies. Shutting down a little is Sadie’s way of coping with the loud noises.
If your dog hides, let him! My granddog Frank likes to hide under the clothes in the closet; all you see of him is his butt sticking out. When dogs are afraid, it is their natural instinct to hide. If your dog is scared enough to hide under a table or bed, don’t pull him out. This will just stress the dog more.
7. Stay Calm
Be sure to stay calm when you’re around the dog. A dog will naturally react to your behavior, so acting panicky or excited around the dog will only make matters worse. If you’re having a lot of people over, try keeping the celebration outside.
Counter-conditioning. Desensitization. Behavior modification. These are all terms for techniques to teach your dog to respond non-fearfully to stimuli that frightens her. Be careful using behavior modification: If these techniques aren’t used correctly, they won’t be successful and could even make the problem worse. Begin by exposing your dog to a noise level that doesn’t frighten her; pair the noise with something pleasant, like a treat or a fun game. Gradually increase the volume as you continue to offer her something pleasant. Through this process, she’ll come to associate “good things” with the previously feared sound.
There is a You Tube video designed to desensitize dogs to fireworks sounds. For complete instructions on how to use this, please watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=YD5QSP6pg68.
9. Other Options
Consult your vet for possible medication to help during acute situations, whether prescription or herbal remedies. Thunder Shirts or Anxiety Wraps are designed to calm dogs by providing swaddling comfort. Pheromone sprays are the synthetic copy of the comforting pheromone released by a mother dog. Some people spray it on bedding or a bandana.
Once the boom and the bang of the celebration is over, your pooch will be grateful that you made it as stress-free as possible. Sadie, Marley and I hope you and your dog have a pleasant 4th of July.
American Humane Association – http://www.americanhumane.org/animals/adoption-pet-care/issues-information/holiday-issues.html#fireworks
Vetstreet – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVSpG5h1dqs
Humane Society of the U.S. – http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/pets_safe_july_4.html
Jim Burwell, Petiquette – http://www.petiquettedog.com/dog-behavior/dogs-fireworks/4
Dogs and Fireworks – http://http://www.dogsandfireworks.com