The Fourth of July, and really any holiday that involves fireworks, can be extremely stressful for your pets. I know this is not new information and many people that I know personally have to make special arrangements or plans for their pets on these days. I truly don’t want to rob anyone of joy or celebration. I definitely understand the need to let loose and celebrate, and I’m enough of a pyromaniac to understand the appeal of colorful, low-level explosives. But adopting my Kona Bean really opened my eyes to the effects of fireworks on dogs.
Since we brought Kona home, we’ve learned all the tricks about how to keep her safe, how to help her stay calm, and with time and training, how to slowly teach her not to be afraid. Not every dog is as lucky. More dogs go missing after July 4th than any other time of the year. The loud noises make them panic and run away, not thinking about where they’re going. The ones that can’t leave can get destructive in their terror, destroying their crates or rooms and often hurting themselves as well. Even with all the help we give her, Kona shakes in terror and tries to hide for hours after the noises stop. It breaks my heart to see her in such distress, and I just wish I could explain to her that she doesn’t have to be afraid.
If you have a pup that fears loud noises, and even if you have a dog that doesn’t seem bothered, here are some tips for keeping them safe and somewhat calm:
- Do your best to get plenty of good exercise before the fireworks start. A dog who has had some energy released won’t have as much pent-up energy to use when the fear hits.
- If you give your dog medication, talk to your vet as soon as possible (not the day before July 4th) to make sure your prescription is filled and up-to-date. If you don’t have medication and are interested, discuss your options with your vet. DO NOT GIVE YOUR DOG MEDICATION IF YOU HAVE NOT DISCUSSED IT WITH YOUR VET! And if you are medicating, make sure you give the medication about 30 minutes before you’re expecting the fireworks to begin.
- BRING YOUR DOG INSIDE. A dog left outside will try to run. At best, you’ll be looking for a lost dog. At worst, your dog can injure themselves. I once saw a picture of a dog that impaled herself on an iron fence trying to escape the noise.
- Make sure your dog has a safe space and use a noise machine and/or turn the tv on to drown out the sounds. I take Kona into our back bedroom and set up her crate with a comfy bed and a towel draped over (I leave the door to the crate open and sit next to her). We turn on our noise machine to white noise and I watch calm movies or shows on my iPad.
- Kona also wears a Thundershirt to help her feel secure. Some people swear by the Thundershirt and some say they don’t notice a difference. While the Thundershirt doesn’t “solve” Kona’s anxiety, I personally can tell a difference when she’s wearing it. There are also “homemade” versions as well (check out this article by K9 of Mine for instructions). Additionally, you can try calming treats or lavender essential oils in a diffuser (though the effectiveness of these is up for debate).
We do essentially all of the above for Kona. Each little thing helps, but nothing can really soothe her terror. It’s something that we’re working on – training to counter-condition – but it takes time and intentionality.
If you’re thinking about shooting off your own fireworks, the pet owners with fearful animals beg you to reconsider (not to mention our veterans with PTSD). There are other really fun ways to celebrate: cookouts, bonfires, laser shows, pool parties, and if you need the “spark,” sparklers are much quieter! And if the fireworks are really important to your holiday, I suggest you go check out professional fireworks shows that are usually put on in cities and stick to a schedule that pet owners can more easily plan for. And if you insist on shooting fireworks yourself, please seek out a safe space that isn’t the end of your neighborhood driveway in consideration of your two and four-legged neighbors.