Updated: Aug 2, 2019
It’s almost July, and July means fireworks! Fireworks season can be stressful for many dogs and their owners. Here are some tips to keep your dogs calm and safe this time of year.
First and foremost, if your dog is scared of fireworks, the worst thing you can do for them is to pet them and tell them “it’s ok.” This marks their behavior and rewards it. It’s similar to teaching your dog to sit, marking it verbally, then petting your dog when he does the taught behavior. As humans we want to comfort them, but your dog’s brain doesn’t work the same way, and they see this as rewarded behavior. Try not to encourage fear, focus on making your environment as calm and relaxed as possible.
Start early, desensitizing your dog to fireworks sounds weeks in advance. When they are in a calm, happy state, play fireworks sounds on a low volume and then initiate a play time with lots of treats. Gradually over time, increase the volume of the fireworks and make it a positive experience rather than an anxious one. You can find fireworks sound videos online. Then, when the real thing happens, reward your dogs for calm behavior.
Get your dog plenty of exercise during the day. Play lots of fetch, go on a long walk or jog, do some training to work their brain. This way your dog will be physically and mentally worn out by the time fireworks start. They will have less energy to spend on being anxious and afraid, and will be more likely to relax faster.
Consider kennel training your dog ahead of time, if they aren’t already. A kennel provides a safe space to keep your dog so you know your dog and your home are safe.
Make the kennel dark and cozy. Cover it with a blanket, make it comfy inside, and give them good things to chew on to help them relax. If you do not use a kennel, simply set an example by being calm and behaving normally. If they try to hide, they feel safer doing so. Let them be. You can also try thunder shirts, diffuse calming essential oils and play soothing music or a loud movie to distract from the noise.
If your dog has needed medication for anxiety in the past, or you think they will need medication, speak to a vet a few weeks beforehand about getting a prescription. Do NOT assume any supplement or home remedy will work for you. Talk to your vet.
Please do not take your dogs to go see fireworks! Most dogs hate the noise and they can flee in terror. During such an overstimulating and stressful time, dogs do best in a familiar environment. Leave them home, in a safe space with all doors and windows shut.
Prevent runaways! Use a martingale or slip collar. This type of collar will tighten if your dog tries to pull out of it where a normal collar can be slipped over the head. Keep your dog on a leash at all times when fireworks are eminent. Even in a fenced yard. If your dog is fearful, they are capable of escaping even if they normally wouldn’t.
Make sure your dog is wearing a collar with an ID tag, including your contact information, and make sure your microchip information is up to date.
If you aren’t sure how your dog feels about fireworks, do not leave your dog unattended during this time until you know what to expect.
Remember, this too shall pass! Have a safe and happy July 4th!