Imagine the piercing vibration of explosions inexplicably going off nearby. The usually familiar air begins to reek of an odious and foreign burning smell that signifies danger. Flashes of light crackle through the night sky until it all reaches a terrible crescendo.
That's pretty much what your dog experiences every 4th of July.
With their amplified hearing and keen senses, dogs can suffer greatly from the ceaseless-seeming reverberations of fireworks. Even the most fearless of furry protectors have been known to leap into the bathtub or hide under the bed during fireworks, where they may cower and tremble for hours without respite.
Dogs are animals that are programmed intuitively for "fight or flight" when dangers present themselves. No dog can fight the battery of assault fireworks present to their senses, and sadly, many dogs in a state of complete terror have no choice but to choose flight.
The 4th of July and the ensuing weeks are always a very busy time for shelters and rescue organizations. Too many dog owners do not prepare properly for this alarmingly frightening holiday, and their dogs escape, lost forever.
Dogs have been known to shatter glass doors and windows, gnaw frantically through wooden fencing. Grave injuries and missing pets are all too commonplace on this holiday.
Dog owners owe it to their pets to plan ahead for the anxiety caused by the 4th. Here are some tips to help your dog's summer start off, not with a bang, but with a safe experience:
- Stay Home. Yes, it can be a sacrifice to skip the fireworks, but unless your pet is completely secure, it's well worth it to change your plans.
- Microchip and Tag Your Pet. Accidents should not happen, but they do. If your pet disappears, this is one of the only methods of possibly being reunited. Companies like Home Again provide identification and tracking for lost pets. Get to your vet and get it done!
- Practice. Download a free MP3 specifically recorded to prepare dogs for exposure to fireworks at: Dogs and Fireworks.
Begin by playing it low while distracting your dog with treats.
Gradually turn up the volume, day by day (while still distracting your dog with toys and treats). This (hopefully) helps to neutralize the "power" of the sound of fireworks, although the odor may still be an issue.
- Thundershirt. A pressure wrap of the same kind used to treat those who suffer from autism as well as various neurological difficulties. What looks to be a regular coat is actually a taught wrap which brings about a sense of calm to some dogs. DO NOT LEAVE YOUR DOG HOME ALONE WEARING A THUNDERSHIRT....it is intended to be used along with human supervision!
- Create A Safe Haven. Before the 4th of July is upon us, pick the least noise accessible spot in your home. Make a cozy corner of blankets and soft toys. Introduce your dog to this area and make sure he knows it is a safe, quiet place. If instead your pet decides that the safest place is the bathtub, let him stay there and make it as comfortable as possible.
- Prepare Your Home. Try your best to soundproof by closing windows tightly early in the day. Shut the shades as well. If possible, hang sound-blocking blankets over the windows. Yes, your decor will suffer, but it's temporary. Crank up the TV or the music a bit more than usual to help drown out the offending fireworks.
- Put On A Good Show. Act like everything is A-Okay, even if your dog is freaking out. Don't join your pet in their panic by panicking over their reactions. Don't smother your dog with love and baby-talk...if that is not your normal routine, it will only cause further anxiety.
- Anti-Anxiety Meds; Natural and Prescription. First, always speak with your vet about the options. There are prescription anti-anxiety medications which can be tested before the holiday, along with natural remedies.
Some prescription meds simply make the animal drowsy....they are still frightened but they are too tired to act out. Some alternative medications are effective at calming for some dogs, but not others. Speak with your vet about possible options for your particular dog and do a dry run before July 4th!
- Remove Other Stressors From The Scene. If you are throwing a party or having a bunch of small, screaming children over, make certain your dog is somewhere else in the house that is safe and familiar. Doors opening and closing carelessly provide dangerous escape for frightened dogs. Guests coming and going can unintentionally release your pet and cause a tragic loss.
- Don't Be An Idiot. Okay, that may sound mean, but it's simply exasperating to see someone bringing their panting, trembling dog to a crowded fireworks display (often dressed up as Uncle Sam or sporting an American flag bandana). That's about your need for attention, so instead of taking your dog....dress yourself up and go alone!
- Have A Safe Getaway. If you are planning to leave home during the holiday, get an extra tag for your dog (they are quite cheap) that says: "I am visiting...." Add the new tag to your dog's collar (along with his regular tag) so if the dog becomes lost, your host will be the point person to call if the dog is found.
Most of all, don't reprimand or punish your dog for their fears.
DO NOT confine your animal alone in a "punishing" setting (such as the basement or garage) simply because they are barking in fear.
Remember to always let compassion, common sense and kindness guide you when dealing with a fearful animal.