Dogs & Fireworks: 4th of July Tips for Dog Owners

white dog with blue eyes
A dog’s hearing is 10 times more sensitive than a human’s, so the fireworks are likely to cause your dog some anxiety, stress and fear.
Here’s what you can do in the hours leading up to the fireworks.
Plus, what to do if you notice your dog is overly stressed by the loud noises and bright lights. 

As a responsible dog owner, you should do everything in your power to protect your dog on this night filled with loud bangs, pops and sizzles.
Since fireworks typically only happen once or twice a year, the sounds and lights are likely to catch your dog off-guard, confuse him a bit (or a lot!), and possibly make him nervous and on edge the entire evening.
Remember, your dog’s hearing is 10 times more sensitive than yours!

If you want to enjoy the fireworks and you have a dog, here are your options:

#1 If you’re thinking of taking your dog outside to watch the fireworks with you…
Think again! You and your dog will have a much more enjoyable evening if you leave the dog at home.
Aside from the danger associated with your dog being in the wrong place at the wrong time (dogs & fire simply don’t mix), the mass hysteria, loud noises and repeated flashes of light are likely to have a traumatic effect on your dog.
Whatever you do… don’t leave your dog in the car!

#2 If you live close to a location where the fireworks are set off in your town…
Your best bet is to keep your dog indoors (preferably in a crate, if he’s already accustomed to spending time in a crate). Leave your dog indoors somewhere where he is likely to do the least amount of harm — to himself, and your house!
You should also turn on the TV or a radio — with the volume turned up loud — to make it less likely that he will be able to hear the fireworks outside.
Since the flashing lights can scare your dog just as much as the loud noises, be sure to close all the curtains and blinds inside your home and turn ON all the lights in the room. This will make the bright lights from fireworks less noticeable to your dog. Plus, closed curtains and blinds offer a small degree of sound-proofing in your home, lowering the high pitched sounds a tiny bit.

#3 If you’re staying home with your dog…
Without a doubt, the best place for your dog on this night is inside the house. Preferably your house — a place that your dog is already familiar with and a place where he feels comfortable.
Ideally, you would be in the room with him to monitor any stress or anxiety which might arise. Odds are, there will be none, and you’ll simply be enjoying a night at home with your dog. But you never know.
Some dogs exhibit no signs of fear in their early years, then as they get older suddenly become terrified by the loud noises and bright lights. (This is often due to a change in their hearing, as different tones & pitches begin to sound differently to them.)

Following are some great tips for things you can do beforehand, and things you can do on-the-spot the moment you notice a change in your dog’s stress level…

Some Things You Can Do Ahead Of Time to Prevent Anxiety

Here are a few precautions you can take way ahead of time to prepare your dog for this stressful night:

Make sure your dog has his collar and ID tags on. In the worst case scenarios, dogs have been known to chew through crates, doors, and even jump out of windows due to their anxiety.
Spend some one-on-one time with your dog in the hours leading up to the fireworks. The more personal attention your dog receives from you, the less likely he will be to resent being left alone later that evening.
Let your dog outside to “do his thing” right before it gets dark and people start setting off their own fireworks.
Exercise your dog by taking him on a longer-than-usual walk or by participating in some active play with your dog. This will tire him out and make him less likely to over-exert himself later if/when he becomes stressed from the sound of fireworks.
Give your dog a relaxing rub-down or doggie massage an hour or so before dark. This will put him in a calm frame of mind early, which will help him to handle whatever stress might come later.
Give your dog a bath (assuming that your dog finds baths an enjoyable experience). Better yet: use an aromatherapy dog shampoo in a scent that is calming to dogs.
Play a rigorous game of catch or fetch with your dog in the early evening hours, to give your dog a chance to burn off some energy and tire him out a bit. This way, he’ll have less drive (and energy) to become overly excited later, once the fireworks start.
Add some cooked (plain) potato or white rice (plain) to his regular meal that evening. Just like with people, carbohydrates will make a dog fuller and sleepier than usual. A tired and well-fed dog will be less anxious.
Plug in one of those popular in-home air fresheners that release calming aromatherapy scents into your home. Or, use some other type of aromatherapy tools (candles, home diffusers, heat lamps, etc.) to fill your home with a relaxing aroma with the addition of Essential Oils. Some good choices: Lavender, Juniper, Chamomile, Bergamot, Frankincense, Sweet Orange.
If you plan enough in advance, you can ask your vet for some dog anxiety medicine, or order something like Pet Calm pills or spray.

How to Calm a Nervous Dog on the Spot

The moment you notice that your dog is becoming overly excited or anxious by the loud noises and bright lights, try one of these:

•    Distract your dog with some of his favorite things. Your best bet is to pull out that one special thing that your dog only sees a couple times a year. It will be such a welcome surprise to him, that he’ll become fixated on it, and less on the loud noises and flashing lights. (For our dogs, that would be a pressed rawhide bone — a rare treat in our home.)

•    Interact with your dog in a low-key game of indoor catch. The interaction with you and the act of participating in a dog-friendly activity will likely distract him from the fireworks.

•    Give your dog a KONG toy, stuffed with goodies. If it’s tasty enough to your dog, he will likely lose interest in the noises and lights and become fully focused on this special dog treat. Need ideas for new things to stuff inside?… Try these one-of-a-kind Kong recipes!

•    Try introducing a brand new toy or treat (hopefully, a long-lasting chewy one!) to your dog. Perhaps he’ll be more interested in the surprise smells that are in his face, than the surprise sounds that are in his ears.|

•    Do not soothe your dog too much or “baby” her in times of stress. This will probably only make the problem worse. Instead, be cheerful and in control. Also, don’t punish your dog, as this will only make him more anxious and nervous.

Humane Society
Holiday Fireworks — Helping Your Pet Cope

The following tip is timely with Fourth of July just around the corner.
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Humane societies and shelters typically take in more stray animals during the Fourth of July holiday because many pets are scared off by fireworks. Below are some tips to help pets cope with outdoor noises.
Holiday fireworks and other fanfare are often frightful experiences for dogs. The loud noises can hurt their sensitive ears.
Frightened dogs have different reactions: some tremble at their owners’ feet, others retreat to a hiding place, some try to run off (traveling for miles), and others display bizarre behavior. According to behavior specialist Dr. Elizabeth Shull, low-frequency, percussive noises such as fireworks and summer thunderstorms trigger wild fear in about 20% of dogs. Under such circumstances, ordinarily well-behaved pets may become aggressive, destructive and/or unpredictable.

Here are some precautions you can take to help your pets:

  • Exercise utmost caution when taking a dog into new environments.
  • Make sure all pets always are wearing well-fitted collars and securely fastened ID tags. Microchips and tattoos are great ID techniques, too. Even a back-firing car or shot in the woods can be enough to incite a dog to run off, so avoid taking any chances.
  • Don’t take pets to events with fireworks.
  • If fireworks are being set off nearby, or if you’re having guests over for a holiday celebration, find a quiet, secure place to keep your pets. Darkening the room can help. Crating is also a good idea — place the crate in the quietest part of the home. Make sure you put safe chew toys in the crate to occupy and distract the pet during the event. You can close the curtains and turn up the radio, CD player or TV to drown out noise.
  • Do not leave pets outside, even in a fenced yard, anytime when fireworks might be set off in the distance.
  • Rather than cuddle a frightened dog, try to distract the dog from the disturbing noises with physical activity such as playing ball.
  • Remember that scolding or coddling a scared dog will not help. Scolding will scare and confuse the animal, and coddling serves to reinforce fearful behaviors. Instead, assume your pack leader role and act confident and unbothered by the noise and activity outside. You can give your pet a gentle massage, or use Tellington Touch techniques (see the T-Touch Dog Tip on the PAW website) or even just place your hand calmly on the pet’s head.
  • If the sounds and lights of fireworks frighten your dog, here’s an innovative technique from the most recent issue of “Unleashed! The Pet Care Forum’s Newsletter for Dog Lovers” (www.vin.com/PetCare/Dogs.htm). Make an “anxiety wrap” using an adult or children’s T-shirt. Put the dog’s front legs through the arm holes, then knot the hem over the dog’s back. This technique is related to the massage and Tellington Touch therapy approaches. Wrapping fabric around an animal can give the pet a feeling of greater security.
  • Vets can prescribe tranquilizers for frightened dogs. Also, some people find that non-prescription remedies such as Rescue Remedy or Serene-um calm their dogs.
  • If you’re going out of town for the holidays, entrust the care and feeding of pets to an adult friend or a boarding kennel you know very well.
  • If you know someone whose pet escaped, advise that they call their veterinarian and other local veterinarians, local emergency animal clinics, the local shelters and animal control offices. The owner can post a description and picture of the lost pet or search the Pets 911 database at www.1888PETS911.org (or call toll-free 1-888-PETS911). Another good resource is www.petfinder.org.

Click Here for more tips on how to keep your pet safe during 4th of July.

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