Fireworks — Fun for some people, but a nightmare for some dogs and their owners.

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We couldn’t believe it when we moved to Portland and saw/heard how many fireworks go off here on the 4th of July. We’ve never lived anywhere with legal fireworks, and had no idea that it would be such a constant barrage of explosions for hours on end. This can be a very frightening thing for pets in our homes who can’t possibly understand what is happening, and can drive some dogs into a panic. I thought I’d put together some tips for how to get ready and how to deal with the 4th when it comes.

If this is your first 4th of July with your new puppy, this is your chance to set the tone for the future. This exercise can also help older dogs that are already frightened of fireworks noises. <! — more — >

       In the next week, try to desensitize the noise of random fireworks and turn them into a signal that something great is going to happen for the dog. People are always impatient for the 4th to come, and they end up setting a few off ahead of time. These can be very useful opportunities for you to work on getting your puppy happy with the noises instead of being frightened. First, get some sort of outrageous treat ready — something that will really blow your dog’s mind that he doesn’t usually get. Hotdog slices come to mind, or pieces of real meat. Cut them up and put them in a Tupperware in the front of the fridge, ready to grab. Any time you hear a bang outside, start your “puppy party”. React like something really exciting and fabulous has happened — “Lucky lucky puppy!! Oooh Boy!” Bounce your way to the fridge and grab your goodies. Sounds silly, but if you’re lucky enough to get some repetitions, your dog will soon associate the sound of the fireworks with an opportunity for a hotdog puppy party, instead of making up his own interpretation of what this big noise could possibly mean. Dogs are incredibly good at associations, and this sort of classical conditioning works well with anything that a dog has previously found unnerving. They will quickly come to associate a noise (even a scary one) with big fun if that’s what you seem to be saying it means. An industrious puppy owner could even come up with ways of getting some more repetitions under their belt in ways they can control and predict. Maybe you can get a hold of some fireworks and enlist the help of a friend or family member to set them off when you’re ready. Cell phones make this an easier exercise. Maybe they start from a block away and set one off — just a little pop. “Lucky puppy”! It makes you happily jump up from the couch and get him a hotdog. Then you settle down again. When you’re ready, maybe a few more pops, and a few more hotdog slices and maybe a little game of tug, or a new toy. Then your helper moves closer. Just a few repetitions a night can lead to some good associations for your dog. If your dog has an extreme case of fireworks phobia, consider occasionally working on this exercise throughout the coming year, and next year will be easy sailing for your dog. You might also be able to find a fireworks noises tape or CD, or maybe even a DVD (I found one online by Nova called “Discover the Explosive History of Fireworks”) In the cases of extreme fear, you want to start as small as possible — very low volume on the DVD, or just those little snaps you throw on the ground (someone can pop them outside in the yard for you, then build up to bigger bangs later). The key is to wait to increase the intensity until you get a good response at the level you’re at. It may seem like a pain, but it’s so worth it in the end to help spare them from such a stressful experience. You can also use this “Lucky Puppy!” response to help work on other noises for the noise sensitive dog. The other reason this works is that dogs play off of your energy. You might be inadvertently reinforcing the trembling terrors by cuddling a trembling dog, whereas if you appear to think a noise is OK, or even fun, they might believe you (especially a puppy).

        – Next, consider picking up a product to help ease the fear of a nervous dog. Homeopet makes an Anxiety Blend which is specific to fears about noise called TFLN (Thunder, Fireworks, Loud Noises). Homeopathy is extremely safe and can be given safely even in conjunction with other medications, so it might be worth trying. Other options include an herbal blend by Animals Apawthecary called Tranquility Blend to relax an animal, and Ark Naturals makes an herbal blend called Happy Traveler that might help to take the edge off. (We carry all three in the store, if you’re in the neighborhood).

         – On the day, make sure that you exercise your dog really well. A tired dog is much less likely to be stressed about the noises. Keep your dog inside, as more dogs are lost on this night than almost any other trying to flee from the noise. If you’re not going to be home, find a secure place in the house and draw the blinds (if your dog is crate trained, this would be a perfect time to use it).

        – Some folks have told us that drowning out the noises sometimes helps. One woman said she puts her dog in the laundry room with a meaty bone or a stuffed Kong and puts sneakers in the dryer, and it works well for her dog. You’d have to decide though whether that would add stress to your noise sensitive dog, or whether it might help. Of course it depends on your dog. Perhaps more “normal” noises like the TV or radio would work better for some.

        – Other people have had good luck with the T-Touch method of wrapping a dog in fabric to give it a greater sense of security. The easiest way to try this is to get a tight t-shirt, put it on the dog and tie the bottom in a knot to keep it snug around the dog’s body. (If it smells like you, even better.)

        Most importantly, don’t ever bring a dog with you to a fireworks display. Not only are they very crowded, but they are far too loud for your dog’s sensitive ears. While there are some dogs out there who might take an experience like a fireworks display in stride, it would be far too easy to traumatize a dog with this very extreme evening of smells, giant explosions overhead, the feeling of rumbling in the ground, and earsplitting noise. Once you’re packed into a crowd, it’s hard to make a quick exit if your dog isn’t handling the situation well, and the damage might already be done. Perhaps you could spend the puppy’s first 4th of July at home with him and make it a fun evening for him, so that future fireworks aren’t as scary.

Have any fireworks tips for others, or product recommendations? Please feel free to post a comment here and share your idea with others!

4 Responses to “Fireworks — Fun for some people, but a nightmare for some dogs and their owners.”

  1. Judi Truskey

    If people do leave the radio or TV on, they need to think about what will be playing that night. KINK (FM 101.9) broadcasts the fireworks from the Waterfront Blues Festival, and somebody broadcasts the Fort Vancouver fireworks on TV. These are stations to avoid, as are ones showing war movies. Go for the nature programs, classical music (other than the 1812 Overture), comedies.

    Even if you have a fenced yard, take your dog out on a leash for potty breaks. Spooked animals can go over, under, or through fences that normally hold them. Also make sure they’re wearing current ID with a valid phone number in case they do get away. The sooner you can get them back, the happier you both will be.

  2. dogs pets

    yes, i agree with you… don’t bring our dogs to the firewall displays because of it’s sensitive earings … i think they will bark to the sky too.
    thanksfor this good article .. i love it

  3. Green Dog

    That’s why counterconditioning is such a valuable tool to use with dogs – since you can’t convince them to breathe and use other stress relieving techniques like this, you can create positive associations with fear-inducing things. By pairing something pleasant over and over with something that is stressful for the dog, the emotional response begins to change to the event that was previously stressful. Classical conditioning like this can be a powerful tool to change a dog’s emotional response, making them feel less anxious about that event.

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