17 Jan Keeping Your Dogs Safe and Calm During Fireworks Season
A single loud “pop” in the distance is enough to send two of my dogs scrambling to my side. And when it’s fireworks season (that period starting around late June and carrying into July when fireworks are readily available and frequently used), they are utterly beside themselves.
Here are some tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years to help my dogs endure the sound of fireworks, and I hope they help you keep your critters safe and happy too!
Worst Case Scenario
First, let’s talk about what can happen when a dog hears fireworks. Reactions will run the gamut from “couldn’t care less” to “I am going to die!!!!”
If my dogs are outside and they are scared by a noise, they high-tail it for the back door and have a little meltdown in the 5 seconds it takes me to open the door.
Not all dogs have this “head for home” reaction, though. In fact, most dogs take off and “run blind,” meaning they aren’t thinking very clearly while they run; their instinct to flee in pure terror kicks in and they are gone.
That’s why there are disheartening statistics about more pets getting lost around the Fourth of July versus any other time of year. And it’s difficult to find these animals, because they become disoriented and may remain nervous for some time, hiding from sight and running from strangers, unable to find their way back home.
They can also end up travelling long distances, meaning that putting “Lost” posters up in your neighborhood may be a wildly insufficient search effort.
A scared dog that is convinced a monster is going to eat him will also have enough adrenaline to propel him over a fence that he normally would never be interested in jumping, for example.
And so the moral of the story is to keep your dog inside as much as possible during fireworks season. A dog that is scared while inside the house is likely to find a place to hide and stay there until the threat passes.
Practice What to Do!
I mentioned that my dogs come straight to me when they hear a noise and are scared. This is no accident. I taught them to do it by simple conditioning. If I noticed my dog was alarmed by a noise, I called him to me.
We live behind an industrial park, so there are plenty of odd machinery noises to practice with. But you can practice too just by noticing when something has arrested your dog’s attention, and then redirecting their attention onto yourself. Really yummy treats and toys are good motivators!
My dogs are also comforted by physical contact, so teaching them to come to me when scared was a very easy process. They got all kinds of rewards, including the most important one in the moment: relief from being scared.
This leads to another important tip: don’t leave your dog unattended outside during fireworks season, even if you have a fenced yard. As soon as your dog is alarmed by an early-evening firecracker, you want to be able to put your practice efforts to good use and bring your dog inside immediately. If your dog is scared and you aren’t there to notice right away, there is a possibility that he could become increasingly frightened to the point of trying to escape the yard.
If you’re thinking, “But my dog would never do that,” don’t be so sure. My dogs weren’t scared during their first thunderstorms or fireworks shows, but they did develop noise phobias later. Also, a scared dog isn’t exactly a thinking dog; a scared dog is a dog in instinct mode. Your dog might be capable of making very smart choices on an average day, but when scared to pieces by fireworks, he might act completely different.
Other Ways to Prepare
If your dog’s noise tolerance is pretty high, you might be able to get away with just using a DAP (dog appeasing pheromone) diffuser and snuggling on the couch through the fireworks show, but other dogs need a little more preparation.
Talk to your vet about as-needed medications that you can give your dog to keep him calm and relaxed. If your dog shakes, drools and is inconsolable as the minutes drag on, this is a perfectly viable option to use in the future and does not mean that you are cutting corners or are incapable of training or desensitizing your dog. These anxiety medications usually have to be given before the dog is in panic mode in order for them to be truly effective.
Body compresses like the Thundershirt are also smart options. In a pinch, you can put your dog in a fitted t-shirt, wrap a scarf in a harness pattern, roll him up in a blanket or simply hug him if he’ll tolerate it.
Give your dog a safe, quiet place to relax. Find an area of the house where the noise is least noticeable. This might be the basement or an interior room. Give your dog a nice bed to lay on, turn on a radio with some soft background noise, provide plenty of water and hang out with him there. Scared dogs usually lose their appetite, but you can try to distract your dog with treats and interactive toys too.
Don’t forget to inform your whole family and your pet sitter about how your dog reacts to fireworks and how to best help him cope. Finding a knowledgeable pet sitter who can be trusted to watch your dog with the same vigilance as you can be daunting, but fortunately there are places like Mad Paws that make it easy to get a sense of a sitter’s reputation and experience. With a noise-phobic dog, be direct in asking a potential pet sitter how he or she takes care of dogs that are scared of fireworks. It’s a good sign if the candidate already knows about the dangers and possible ways to soothe a scared dog, because then you can have better peace of mind in knowing that your instructions will be followed instead of poo-pooed.
Finally, make sure your dog is wearing a collar with up-to-date and easy-to-read ID tags. A microchip is also a good idea just in case your dog slips free of his collar. Note that dogs who are being walked on leash can easily back out of their collars if scared, so try to limit evening walks during firework season too.
While this may not be a fully comprehensive guide, I hope it helps you keep your dog safe and calm during the next firework-intensive holiday! Comment below if you have other tips and advice to add.