While Fido may be looking forward to stealing a few hot dogs at the backyard BBQ, he may not be as excited about the neighbor’s sound and lights spectacular. The explosions and strange smells can be extremely anxiety producing in pets, and shelters often see an uptick in strays around the Fourth of July as scared dogs try to run away from home to escape the chaos.
Here are a few tips to get everyone through the holiday safely:
- Exercise dogs earlier in the day with a long walk or play session. Exercised dogs are calmer dogs. You don’t want to add nervous energy on top of anxiety produced by fireworks. And if your neighbors start their fireworks sessions early, you may not be able to take your regular evening walk.
- Crate your dog in a dark inner room. Moving the dog’s crate to a room with a door that can be closed can help decrease the amount of noise entering the room. Some dogs will still attempt to dig and claw their way out, but the crate is likely a safer place for an upset dog than in a house were they can tear up your furniture or hurt themselves.
- Invest in a Thundershirt. Many dogs are comforted by a compression wrap around their chests. You can learn to swaddle your dog yourself, or try one of the ready-made compression shirts on the market.
- Don’t scold or coddle an anxious dog. Yelling at or punishing a nervous dog will only make her more scared and confused, while fussing over your pet can reinforce the negative behavior. If you are upset by the sight of your upset dog, the dog will sense that and think that fear is an appropriate reaction (Mom’s upset! Things must be really bad!). So what to do? Stay calm yourself and be a confident pack leader. Instead talk to your dog in normal tones and act like these crazy booming lights are nothing to be worried about. Distracting and playing with your pet are good options and a few pats on the head should help reassure him that things will be okay, even if he’s still nervous.
- Talk to your vet about herbal or prescription medications. There are medications including anti-anxiety medications that can be used either daily (for very nervous and destructive dogs) or just as needed, such as when traveling or during storms. Talk to your vet, they care about your pets too and have the expertise to recommend solutions you may not have considered.
- Don’t leave dogs alone in the backyard. Even if Rover is normally fine left to bury his bones in the flower bed, the unexpected can happen. A particularly loud bang or stray Roman Candle may lead an otherwise docile pup to jump the fence and head for the hills.
- Don’t take dogs to new locations. Even though Spot may usually enjoy a friend’s backyard BBQ, a new location can add to a dog’s stress if he starts to be bothered by the fireworks. Plus, if Spot slips away you may not know where to look in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Remember, your dog’s hearing is much more sensitive than yours — leave her at home if you’re heading to the actual fireworks location.
- When leaving a dog with a friend or at a kennel, let them know if fireworks will be an issue. I had a friend who was dog-sitting a dog she knew fairly well but she came home from running errands to find that her charge had gotten upset by a thunderstorm and had broken through a glass window to escape. Luckily the dog was quickly found and was unhurt, but had she known about the dog’s fear she could have stayed with him or kept him crated for his own safety.
- Have up-to-date tags and get your dog microchipped. No one wants to think of what would happen if Princess did go missing, but it is important to give your dog the best chances of getting back to you should the unthinkable happen. A well-fitted collar with up-to-date contact information will give your dog the best chance of getting back to you as quickly as possible.
Have a safe and happy Independence Day! As a bonus, don’t let this happen to you: