6 Tips to Keep Dogs Calm During 4th of July Fireworks

Photo by Bethany Ferr | Pexels

Most people respond to a fireworks display with delighted “Oohs” and “Ahhs.” Unfortunately, what most Americans consider the ultimate way of celebrating the Fourth of July may cause their dog to wish they could hide under the covers until it is all over. The dog’s highly sensitive hearing paired with the over the top stimulus of the low-frequency, thundering, prolonged, booming sounds of fireworks, and the fact that it is an experience that happens only once a year for most dogs (which means it is unfamiliar) can result in an extremely jarring and stressful experience for your canine companion. As a result, the dog may shake, drool excessively, whine, and even the most normally well-behaved and friendly dog may become unpredictable and destructive.

Helping your dog cope with fireworks is a process that should ideally begin in puppyhood. Many dogs will startle at loud noises (just like people), but can bounce back quickly, especially if they have been raised in a home that focuses on early and ongoing habituation to a variety of sounds and other stimuli. If you are raising a young puppy, consider that while fireworks have some unique sound qualities (i.e. the volume, duration, frequency) you can help a young, impressionable puppy to develop the ability to better cope with loud sounds in general which may help them cope with the specific sounds of fireworks. If your dog is currently suffering from stress due to fireworks, consider that helping them to develop the skills to better cope during this experience can be a lengthy process which needs to also be paired with management techniques on the day of. Some of the following tips should help your dog make it through the day with as little stress as possible.

* Minimize Exposure: You may able to at least partially drown out the noise of the fireworks display by turning on the radio or TV and a fan or air conditioner. You can also minimize your dog’s exposure by setting them up in an area of the home where they are least likely to hear the display of fireworks. If your dog has learned to enjoy spending time resting in a crate where they are fed some of their meals and offered safe chew toys to play with this might be a suitable, safe resting spot during fireworks. Be sure to close and secure doors and windows and consider closing drapes or blinds. Also be sure to reduce any additional stimulus (such as visitors) which may further excite or stress your dog. If you live near the site of a fireworks display, consider having your dog stay at a friend’s home that your dog is familiar with who is farther away. Just be sure they have made visits there previously and that being in that environment will be more conducive to a peaceful experience.

* Provide Exercise: Plan for a vigorous walk (appropriate for your dog’s age, health and the temperature) earlier in the day prior to the fireworks display. Burning off mental and physical energy may aid the dog in being better able to cope later in the day.

* Offer Potential Distractions: Be sure to provide your dog with safe chew toys so they have something to occupy them. Those which can be stuffed with food are usually most likely to effectively act as a behavioral pacifier.

* Do Not Leave Your Dog Unsupervised in the Yard: There are always risks associated with leaving a dog unsupervised in a yard (they can get stolen, agitated by passersby, or escape). However, you should be especially careful not to leave a dog unsupervised outdoors on the day of a fireworks display. The stress of the experience may cause even an otherwise calm dog to go to extreme measures to escape.

* Consider the Use of Calming Aids: Over the counter calmatives such as DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) which mimics the natural pheromone a mother dog releases when nursing to calm herself and her pups, or rescue remedy may help. The Anxiety Wrap, a vest that wraps snugly around the dog’s chest may also help to soothe them. If you are considering the use of sedatives be sure to have a detailed conversation with your veterinarian about the specifics of the use of a prescribed medication.

* Provide Gradual Exposure to Loud Noises: Integrating loud sounds into the dog’s daily routine, especially during those times when they are engaged in a pleasurable activity such as eating or playing games, should be part of a plan to help them become familiar and less sensitive to these stimuli. Keep in mind that careful observation of your dog is required in order to keep the set-up stimulus below the threshold that triggers a potentially high stress response. Working with a qualified trainer is advisable as they can help you set up a plan for gradual exposure which may include: Playing tapes of fireworks sounds; Exposing your dog to sparklers, bright lights, and toy roll caps which produce a popping sound and the smell of gunpowder (similar to fireworks); Loud popping sounds from a balloon or blown up paper or plastic bag.

Many cases of firework phobias cannot be completely resolved. But, with careful management and a focus on behavior modification your dog should be able to cope with the experience in a more peaceful and stress free manner.

Andrea is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Pet Dog Trainers and a Certified Pet Partners Team evaluator for the Delta Society and the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test. She is the Director of Andrea Arden Dog Training in New York, and was named the best dog trainer in New York by New York, W, Time Out, Quest and the Daily News. Her website is located at http://www.andreaarden.com and she can be reached at 212-414-9597. You can follow her on Facebook at http://www.Facebook.com/andreaardendogtraining

Source: Andrea Arden

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