Keep Your Dog Calm During Fireworks!
Dogs and fireworks often don’t mix, and the results can be disastrous. If your pooch can’t handle the noise and lights, here are some tips on dealing with the festive fallout.
This week, pet parents gear up for the inevitable under-the-bed-doggie-dive, as gala birthday celebrations on July 4th bring a barrage of Roman Candles, Comets and Screaming Banshees to the skies.
No matter how protective we are, there’s just no blanking the tell-tale sounds of the flashy displays. In my household it begins well before dusk. Like a thunderstorm, our boys sense something is a brewin’ and begin to pace and seek out the best hiding spots – basement, shower stall, between the sofa and the end table, under the bed. They’ve tested them all.
We need to remember that our best friend’s experience the world through their senses. Sound, sight, and smell are heightened. When you throw in sudden booms, flashes and the smell of gunpowder, you begin to understand why more pets run away on July 4thmore than any other day of the year.
This is a big deal and we need to do what we can to help them out. So short of banning all firework displays –and I personally love, love, love them – what to do to ease the anxiety in our pooches?
Know when fireworks will be happening and how they’ll impact your home:
Contact your local municipality to find out when your area is likely to have fireworks. Mark the dates on a calendar so that you can keep track of when to ensure your pets are cared for. If you know or suspect that the fireworks will be heard at your house, take the precautions outlined in the following steps.
- Check that your pets’ ID tags and microchips are in date; mark the calendar when renewal payments are due and be sure to make the payments. If your pet does go running off during fireworks events, it’s much easier to be able to identify its ownership with these features.
- Fireworks upset pets as a result of the noise, smell of sulfur, and flashing lights.
If you’ve just begun the de-sensitization process, expect Rover will still need some help getting through the evening. Here are tips from the experts on how to prepare for a night with a frantic dog:
- Drown out the sound of the fireworks by turning up the radio or television and keeping your windows closed and curtains drawn. If the weather permits, a fan or air conditioner also helps.
- Make a safe den for him to retreat to. A travel cage would work or even a make-shift fort.
- Let your dog hide under furniture and include an old, unwashed piece of clothing like a sweat top or t-shirt so he can smell your scent and feel comfortable.
- Feed him long before the fireworks begin. Once they start, he may be too anxious to eat.
- Take him on a long, relaxing walk before dusk. It will help him expend energy and give him a chance to relieve himself before the noise begins.
- Before you open any outside door, make sure he is safely secured in another room. He’s scared and will bolt if the opportunity presents.
- If he isn’t micro-chipped, keep a collar and ID tag on him just in case.
Prepare the house:
The house becomes your pets’ safety zone, so it’s important to prepare it properly.
- Keep some lights on. Keeping a light on will calm your pet and make him feel more secure, rather than being scared in a dark room.
- Dampen the noise. Close the curtains in the room and, if your animal is a caged one, cover up the cage in a thick blanket, but make sure it is breathable so your animal doesn’t suffocate. This will also help to stop the flashes of light affecting your pet.
- Plan to use familiar sounds to drown out the noise of the fireworks. Music from a stereo or turning on the TV are likely familiar sounds that can sooth your pet. Just make sure not to play these sounds ridiculously loud as they can become bothersome themselves.
In the desire to ease our pet’s pain, sometimes we can transfer some of our anxiety and upset to the pet. If you’ve prepared properly in advance, there is no need to feel upset and worried as you can be reassured about the safety of your pet.
- Realize that the startled and frantic reactions of your pet are often the principal source of your own upset. Being ready for their reactions can help to keep you calm as well.
Any interventions need to be planned out and ready to use prior to your pooch hitting the panic button.
- While meds are never a favorite option, for dogs with a severe phobia, they might be the only solution. Speak with your veterinarian. They know your pooch and may be willing to prescribe an anti-anxiety medication or sedative to keep him calm during the fireworks.
- An interesting alternative is a product like the Thundershirt. This needs to be worn prior to Rover going ape-shit and before his breathing becomes heavy. The Thundershirt is worn like a snug-fitting t-shirt, swaddling your dog, applying constant pressure to slow his breathing and comforting him during high-stress periods.
While humans communicate with words, dogs communicate with energy and will look to their pack leader for clues on how they should behave. Yes, that would be you, so as the famed British war poster says, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” In particular:
- Remain cheerful and nonchalant in order to send positive signals to your dog. Reward calm behaviour with doggie treats or with toys and activities.
- Don’t overdo the indulgent behavior. Petting and cuddling more than usual doesn’t always ease a dog’s fear but often reinforces his fearful behaviors.
- Try not to react to the fireworks yourself. If you jump or tense up when you hear fireworks your body language will tell your furry side-kick there is a reason to be afraid.
- Don’t push him past his comfort zone. If he wants to hide, let him. Do NOT force him to face his fears or you risk an aggressive pooch.
The common denominator from all pet experts, including doggie guru Cesar Millan, is to strive for de-sensitization. It’s a simple, inexpensive, and effective resolution to a dilemma that distresses us all.