by Stephanie M. Colman
While fireworks offer a dazzling display for people, they can be quite unsettling to dogs. Many dogs are afraid of fireworks, and some even exhibit an extreme, phobic response. The following tips can help:
If you have not lived with your dog for a previous July 4th holiday (therefore, you don't know how he'll react to the sound of fireworks), it's recommended that you DO NOT leave your dog home alone. Dogs with phobic reactions to fireworks can easily panic and injure themselves in the process. Many panicked dogs find ways to escape from their yards and can be further injured or killed while running loose. Statistically, July 5th is one of the busiest days of the year for local shelters, as people go looking for lost pets. Remember that many neighborhoods celebrate early and continue firework festivities a few days after the 4th, so be prepared. Be sure your dog is wearing a properly-fitting collar with up-to-date contact information, just in case the unthinkable happens and he becomes loose.
If you are unable to stay home with your dog on the 4th of July, keep him confined in an escape-proof area such as his crate or baby-gated in a laundry room or other small, dog-proofed area. Close up the windows (kick-up the AC if needed) and turn up the TV or radio to help insulate your home from firework noise. Leave your dog something WONDERFUL to do -- like playing with one of his favorite dog toys.
If you're staying home with your dog - or if he will be accompanying you to a family BBQ or outing - make sure he's nice and hungry when the sun goes down. Arm yourself with a pocket full of mind-blowing tasty treats (like Whole Life Pet Freeze-Dried Treats!) and keep him busy working and playing for treats as the fireworks blast in the distance. Play all his favorite games and teach him that the big BOOMS predict that great, fun things will happen! Remember not to spend too much time coddling him if he seems worried. If he'll eat a treat, it's better to spend your energy reinforcing his desire to eat rather than focusing on how pitiful he looks.
It is recommended that you NOT take your dog with you to a fireworks display. Hearing them in the distance is dramatically different from being directly AT a display. Over-exposure to the sights, sounds and smells of fireworks can, in some dogs, create a phobic response.
For multiple dog families, if one dog already exhibits a fearful or phobic response to the sound of fireworks, be sure to separate the dogs so that non-fearful dog does not "catch" the fear. In dogs, fear and aggression can be very contagious. This is especially important for young dogs who frequently look to the older dogs in the household for information.
If you discover that your dog does exhibit a fearful response to fireworks, find a qualified trainer who can help you. Systematic desensitization and counter-conditioning throughout the year can often improve a fearful dog's response to the sound of fireworks. Keep in mind that dogs who are afraid of fireworks also struggle during thunderstorms and on New Year's Eve when fireworks and, unfortunately, even gun shots are common forms of revelry. If you already know your dog exhibits a fear response to the sounds of fireworks, consider trying one of the over-the-counter calming remedies such as Rescue Remedy or melatonin. In extreme cases, you may need to treat the phobia pharmaceutically. Be sure to work with your vet long before July 4th. It often takes a bit of trial and error to determine the best dosage for your pet and you'll want to be certain what to expect by the 4th.
Have a happy, SAFE 4th of July!
About the Author
Stephanie Colman has been training dogs professionally for more than eight years. She teaches a variety of classes for J9's K9s Dog Training, Inc. in Los Angeles, CA., and recently launched Caninestein Dog Training with the goal of inspiring people to get out and enjoy life with their canine companions in tow. Caninestein specializes in innovative, dog-friendly outings that have included dining with dogs, dogs at the movies and dogs at the theater! A former journalist and public relations executive, she writes regularly about training and behavior on her blog, www.caninestein.blogspot.com. She shares her life with Zoie, a Whippet, and Quiz, a Golden Retriever, and can be reached at StephanieColman@sbcglobal.net.