Independence Day is an exciting holiday for humans, but it can be a stressful one for dogs. The loud noises and bright flashes from fireworks can frighten them so severely that they run away, ending up lost or in shelters. Fortunately, you can take precautions to help your dog be less fearful as well as to keep him safe at home. Here are five tips to help prepare and protect your dog for the big day!
- People usually begin setting off fireworks several days before the holiday. On the Fourth of July as well as two or three days leading up to it, fearful dogs are better off with indoor activities such as training games or food puzzles instead of walks. The noise will be less frightening to them if it’s at a distance. On walks, secure fearful dogs with a four- to six-foot leash and harness or use a limited-slip martingale collar so the dog can’t back out of if startled. Supervise all outdoor activities, including bathroom breaks in the yard. If you have a sensitive dog who is prone to panic, take him out on leash, even in a fenced yard. A frightened dog can find an escape route before you know it. Keep the dog on leash or in a secure area if people are going in and out of the home. Make sure he’s wearing a collar with ID tags..
- Dog appeasing pheromone is a chemical produced by mother dogs that helps to calm and soothe puppies. Used as a spray, collar, or diffuser, an artificial version of the dog appeasing pheromone, Adaptil, can reduce anxiety due to fireworks or other stressful situations. It is available from your veterinarian, in pet supply stores, or online.
- Use classical music or music formulated for pets to drown out excess noise. In addition, use a white noise machine to further block noises, especially during lulls in music. Compression garments and the smell of lavender and chamomile may also help. There are a variety of sound-blocking accessories available that your dog may benefit from as well.
- Have tasty treats, chews and favorite toys on hand to employ when fireworks start. Don’t wait for fear to progress, but start intervening at early stages by refocusing the dog on something he enjoys. Our family dog, Quixote, shakes off his fear and settles down when we do a group howl with him. Do what works! A quick game of chase after a stuffed toy on a rope, a game of fetch, or offering some super tasty treats might do the trick. Some dogs respond to calming massage. Others do best if they have a safe space where they can hunker down and hide. Think a crate with the door left open and covered with a blanket or a closet or bathroom with no windows to the outdoors.
- Seek professional help if your dog has extreme fear issues with noise. A Fear Free Certified Professional near you may be a great resource. If necessary, work with a reward-based trainer or veterinary behaviorist to fully address your dog’s anxiety. Sometimes medications or supplements in combination with training can help even the most fearful dogs regain peace.
- Lastly, remember to keep calm yourself. Dogs pick up on our own emotional state. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing can soothe you and in turn help your pet relax.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.