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Big Bang Therapy: How To Keep Your Dog Calm During Fireworks
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Dogs and fireworks often don’t mix, and the results can be disastrous. If your pooch can’t handle the noise and lights, here are some tips on dealing with the festive fallout.
This week, pet parents gear up for the inevitable under-the-bed-doggie-dive, as gala birthday celebrations on July 4th bring a barrage of Roman Candles, Comets and Screaming Banshees to the skies.
No matter how protective we are, there’s just no blanking the tell-tale sounds of the flashy displays. In my household it begins well before dusk. Like a thunder storm, our boys sense something is a brewin’ and begin to pace and seek out the best hiding spots – basement, shower stall, between the sofa and the end table, under the bed. They’ve tested them all.
We need to remember that our best friend’s experience the world through their senses. Sound, sight, and smell are heightened. When you throw in sudden booms, flashes and the smell of gun powder, you begin to understand why more pets run away on July 4th more than any other day of the year.
This is a big deal and we need to do what we can to help them out. So short of banning all firework displays –and I personally love, love, love them – what to do to ease the anxiety in our pooches?
It comes down to four key tips: desensitize, prepare, intervention, and behavior.
Experts agree that getting your pup comfortable with the sounds and sights of fireworks is the #1 step in avoiding meltdowns. Similar to how a hunting dog becomes accustomed to the sound of gunfire and smell of gunpowder, it’s a gradual process and can take a few months; meaning results for next year will be stellar, but for now you may want to leave the bedroom door open.
- Find a video or audio recording of fireworks and with Rover present, play it at the lowest possible volume for a few times during the day. Each time this happens, reward your little guy with a small treat or activity.
- Slowly increase the volume with the same reward and eventually your dog will associate the sounds with something positive.
- If at any point he begins to show signs of fear, turn the volume down to a point where he feels more comfortable.
If you’ve just begun the de-sensitization process, expect Rover will still need some help getting through the evening. Here are tips from the experts on how to prepare for a night with a frantic dog:
- Drown out the sound of the fireworks by turning up the radio or television and keeping your windows closed and curtains drawn. If the weather permits, a fan or air conditioner also helps.
- Make a safe den for him to retreat to. A travel cage would work or even a make-shift fort.
- Let your dog hide under furniture and include an old, unwashed piece of clothing like a sweat top or t-shirt so he can smell your scent and feel comfortable.
- Feed him long before the fireworks begin. Once they start, he may be too anxious to eat.
- Take him on a long, relaxing walk before dusk. It will help him expend energy and give him a chance to relieve himself before the noise begins.
- Before you open any outside door, make sure he is safely secured in another room. He’s scared and will bolt if the opportunity presents.
- If he isn’t micro-chipped, keep a collar and ID tag on him just in case.
Any interventions need to be planned out and ready to use prior to your pooch hitting the panic button.
- While meds are never a favorite option, for dogs with a severe phobia, they might be the only solution. Speak with your veterinarian. They know your pooch and may be willing to prescribe an anti-anxiety medication or sedative to keep him calm during the fireworks.
- An interesting alternative is a product like the Thundershirt. This needs to be worn prior to Rover going ape-shit and before his breathing becomes heavy. The Thundershirt is worn like a snug-fitting t-shirt, swaddling your dog, applying constant pressure to slow his breathing and comforting him during high-stress periods.
While humans communicate with words, dogs communicate with energy and will look to their pack leader for clues on how they should behave. Yes, that would be you, so as the famed British war poster says, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” In particular:
- Remain cheerful and nonchalant in order to send positive signals to your dog. Reward calm behaviour with doggie treats or with toys and activities.
- Don’t overdo the indulgent behavior. Petting and cuddling more than usual doesn’t always ease a dog’s fear but often reinforces his fearful behaviors.
- Try not to react to the fireworks yourself. If you jump or tense up when you hear fireworks your body language will tell your furry side-kick there is a reason to be afraid.
- Don’t push him past his comfort zone. If he wants to hide, let him. Do NOT force him to face his fears or you risk an aggressive pooch.
The common denominator from all pet experts, including doggie guru Cesar Millan, is to strive for de-sensitization. It’s a simple, inexpensive, and effective resolution to a dilemma that distresses us all.
Mary Simpson is an animal-loving writer and communications professional. A soft touch for anything stray, she shares her century home with an eclectic collection of rescues that include orange tabby Chico, tuxedo Simon, and jet black Owen. She enjoys running, politics, exploring local wine regions and is an avid supporter of the “shop local” movement.