Who doesn’t love watching spectacular fireworks displays on the 4th of July???
What is surely to be a fun family celebration for many of us can be a night of terror for our 4-legged family members. Dogs have very sensitive noses and ears and can be overwhelmed by the sound, light, and smell of fireworks. Some dogs will even run away to try to escape the scary event—the July 4th holiday is the most common time of year for dogs to run off and get lost!
The reaction your pet has to loud noises is a natural part of the survival instinct and may vary depending on the dog. Although some dogs, like hunting and working dogs, have been desensitized to loud bangs and smells of gunpowder, most dogs have not and may become anxious and fearful if exposed. Dogs with noise phobias, severe anxiety, or canine post-traumatic stress disorder, otherwise known as C-PTSD, may be further traumatized when they hear or see fireworks. Military veterans with PTSD can have negative reactions to fireworks, so it’s reasonable to think that dogs with PTSD might, too!
The 4th of July can certainly be a very stressful time for your dog and for you, too–anyone who has witnessed screen doors or furniture shredded by a panicked pet can attest to that!
So, to keep your dog safe and sane during the holiday, here are 7 tips that might help.
Note that each dog responds differently, so try these different methods to see what will work best for your dog.
1. Prepare ahead of time: Plan to take your dog to a trusted kennel or create a safe zone in your home, away from loud noises. For some dogs, their crate provides a sense of safety and shelter and may help to calm them during the fireworks. Before using a crate, be sure your dog is used to it. Once the fireworks are underway, or in any stressful situation, a dog that is not used to being in a crate might panic and have a bad response.
2. Stay home with your pet (take turns with other family members if you need to) to provide extra comfort to the animal. This might not work for all dogs, especially those with severe anxiety, but at least someone can be there to monitor the dog and prevent her from becoming destructive or harmful to herself or others.
3. Consider masking the noise with familiar sounds like fans or music. Fans create “white noise” that can block out and/or cancel sudden, unexpected sounds, and many animals are familiar with the sound of a fan. Most research on white noise has been done in humans, so it's unclear how helpful it is for dogs, but it might be worth a try for your pup! Playing music has been shown to be calming to dogs. One study showed that kenneled dogs exposed to classical music spent more time resting and less time standing than dogs not exposed to the music. And, varying the genre of music can help to prolong the calming effect. Turns out, these dogs seemed to like soft rock and reggae music the best; they were calmer when listening to these genres versus others. And, one guy is even making calming music especially for dogs! What type of music does your dog like? You might remember this pooch who seemed to like country 😊
4. Comfort your pet with an item like a pressure wrap (eg, ThunderShirt®). In one study, a pressure wrap was shown to lessen physiologic and behavioral stress responses (eg, increases in heart rate, tongue flicking, and yawning) in dogs with canine anxiety disorder compared with dogs who didn’t wear the pressure wrap. It may not work for all dogs, but it is likely to be more effective if your dog gets used to it before being exposed to any loud noises or stressful situations.
5. Medications or calming supplements might help to relax your pet, but be aware that the effects of some of these products (especially supplements like CBD oil) are unclear since very few, if any, clinical studies have been performed in dogs. That doesn’t mean they won’t work for your dog, and many people report positive experiences, but please ask your veterinarian what they would recommend and how to use these products safely. Again, try them out before the fireworks begin to see how your dog reacts and tolerates the medications/supplements. Also, be aware that some dogs can have adverse reactions to these types of calming agents and can actually get more anxious.
6. If you are hosting a 4th of July gathering at your home and fireworks can be heard nearby, be sure to keep doors and gates closed to prevent your pup from escaping and getting lost. As a precaution, be sure that your dog is wearing her collar and current ID tag, and have a photo handy, in the event she decides to make a break for it!
7. Lastly, before the fireworks begin, take your dog out for vigorous play like a run, walk or trip to the dog park to expend any excess energy, or give him an interactive toy like a puzzle to keep his brain active. Providing physical and mental enrichment before the fireworks helps put your dog into a calm state and, if nothing else, tires him out so that he might sleep through the whole event!
So, this 4th of July, have fun with your family and friends and enjoy the spectacle while being mindful of your dog’s needs. Don’t feel guilty about your 4-legged family member missing out on the fun, either. It’s best to leave them at home and shield them from the festivities as much as possible. For most dogs, fireworks are not fun, and they really won’t miss a thing…except for you, of course!
For more information, here are some helpful resources:
ThunderShirt® is a registered trademark of ThunderWorks, Durham, NC. Action-Packed Pup is not affiliated with this company and received no financial incentives for writing about the product. Information was obtained from publicly available data.