If the sound of fireworks or thunderstorms sends your dog scrambling to leap into your lap or cower under a bed, your pup’s not alone. With their keen sense of hearing, loud noises can be overwhelming for most dogs, leaving them pacing the floor, panting or trembling with fear. Some dogs may even urinate on the floor or become destructive while trying to escape from a crate or a room. Dogs and fireworks aren’t a good combination.
As a matter of fact, July 5th is one of the busiest days of the year for many animal shelters as they work to reunite lost pets that have run away after hearing the loud booms from fireworks. With Independence Day less than a week away, here are some tips to help your dog cope with the noise and stay calm.
14 Calming Strategies For Dogs and Fireworks
1. Check Your Attitude
Dogs are masters of picking up on our feelings and body language and they often analyze our reaction to loud noises. Stay calm and relaxed, even if your dog gets nervous. I try to go about my business as usual, pretending I don’t even hear the sounds, and it seems to send a message to Haley that there’s no reason to be overly concerned about the noises outside. If your dog gets scared, it’s okay to pet and reassure them, but try not to fuss over them or act anxious yourself.
Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise earlier in the day. A tired dog has less energy to react physically to noise-related anxiety and you may notice a considerable improvement in their reaction to the fireworks.
3. Create a Secure Environment
Take your dog outside for a bathroom break before the fireworks begin. It’s a good idea to keep your dog leashed, since some dogs have been known to break through fences after hearing loud, unexpected noises. You never know when a neighbor might set off a pack of firecrackers too. Make sure your dog’s wearing their collar with ID, even if they’ve been microchipped. For very nervous dogs, keep them in a crate or small room with the blinds closed and lights turned on. It’s crazy to think that some dogs have jumped through windows to escape the noise, so find the safest place in your home where your dog feels most comfortable.
4. Sound Masking
Before the fireworks begin and while your dog is relaxed, turn on the TV or play music to help drown out the noise. If you turn up the volume, do it gradually. It’s a good idea to do this at other times as well, so your dog doesn’t associate the louder volume with fireworks or storms. You can also purchase a music CD created specifically to help dogs relax from the Through a Dog’s Ear website.
Food-stuffed Kongs, treat dispensing toys or meaty bones can be a positive distraction that also help your dog associate good things with loud noises. When Haley was a puppy, I always started a play session when storms were brewing to help her associate something fun with the sound of thunder. You can work on training new commands or playing a game of Find It. Any positive distraction your dog likes can be helpful.
Lots of dogs have been helped by the ThunderShirt. It’s a vest that puts gentle pressure on your dog to create a sense of calm, much like swaddling a baby. Here’s a DIY version you can use in a pinch.
7. Natural Supplements
Tryptophan and melatonin both have calming effects on dogs, as well as flower-based products such as Rescue Remedy. Check with your vet or a holistic vet for recommendations and the correct dosage for your dog.
Several products on the market use synthetic versions of dog appeasing pheromones (DAPs) which simulate the pheromone produced by female dogs used to comfort their puppies. These products can help adult dogs relax and they come in several forms: sprays, collars and plug-in diffusers. Adaptil is a popular brand that make all three types.
If petting or belly rubs help your dog relax, give them a calming massage when the fireworks begin. You can take your skills to a whole new level by learning TTouch, Reiki or Doga (yoga with dogs).
10. Board Your Dog
Some people prefer to board their pets over the Fourth of July to remove them entirely from an environment with fireworks. This might be a good option if you’re going to be away from home or for dogs with extreme noise anxiety.
11. Make Alternative Plans
Do something different this year and take your dog on a hike somewhere away from all the firework celebrations. We’ve done this a few times and really enjoyed doing something new on the holiday.
For dogs with severe noise anxiety, drugs may sometimes be the best option. Never give human-grade sedatives or medications before consulting with your vet. It’s also worth consulting with a holistic vet who may be able to offer alternative or natural remedies with fewer side effects. “Ace” or Acepromazine is sometimes prescribed as a sedative for dogs, but as Dr. Marty Becker’s article describes, it may make your dog’s noise phobia even worse. Zoetis has just come out with a new medication called Sileo which is a non-sedative, calming gel placed between a dog’s cheek and gum. But since it’s new, I haven’t read a lot of feedback yet about its safety or effectiveness.
This is the process of slowly exposing your dog to louder noises over time. You can record the sound of fireworks or buy a pre-recorded CD like one of these from Victoria Stilwell’s Canine Noise Phobia Series. Start playing the sound at a very low volume and slowly increase the volume over time. If an increase causes a fearful reaction in your dog, go back a level and work a little slower. As your dog progresses through the various levels, reward him with a few treats when he’s calm.
Best when combined with desensitizing, counter-conditioning trains your dog to do something else or have a different reaction when they would normally have a fearful response to sound. A common way to retrain the response is by giving food or treats when the noise occurs. Simply carry some small treats in your pocket during this time of year to instantly reward your pup when they hear loud noises. You can also use toys or playtime like I mentioned earlier; I’m so glad I taught Haley to associate storms and the sound of thunder with playing tug-of-war or fetch.
The Fourth of July or any holiday with fireworks or noisemakers doesn’t have to be stressful for you and your pup. While planning your BBQ cookout, don’t forget to plan ahead for the best way to keep your dog calm and relaxed.
What are your tips for dogs and fireworks? Share them with us in a comment below!