Oh dear. It’s coming.
It’s the countdown to the big 4th of July celebration. To humans this means big fun: barbecues, friends and – the best part – fireworks!
And to dogs? It’s the countdown to RANDOM AND UNEXPLAINED EXPLOSIONS from outside.
We get a lot of calls around this time of year from worried owners about fireworks. I hear the same stories:
“My dog races around the house and hides in the bathtub.”
“She just goes crazy – and I can’t do anything to console her.”
“I tried getting sedatives but it only made it worse.”
Many of them who live near big celebratory areas want to board their dogs with us until the smoke clears. (And you can too! But I’d recommend you request your reservation now – we book up quickly.)
Since we’ve confronted this question so many times (and I’ve had the problem myself with my hyper-sensitive German Shepherd), here are a few tips on what you can do to make the fireworks seasons a little less stressful on you and your dog.
I want to say upfront though – there’s no guarantee that anything works 100% of the time. But these tips are worth trying and – depending on your particular dog and what she responds to – you might just find the magic bullet that really works for you.
Sorry sweetie. I didn’t mean to say bullet!
1. Don’t baby them through it.
Contrary to what seems the most natural thing to do – hold your scared dog tight and speak softly and pet them – don’t do this! The extra coddling reinforces to them that SOMETHING IS VERY WRONG and, yes, they do NEED TO BE VERY AFRAID. Why else is mom or dad acting so concerned?
2. Act as if everything is normal.
You know how Cesar Milan says to use “calm, assertive” energy? It totally works. Your dog is very sensitive to how you feel. So make sure, even if you are freaking out a bit, keep yourself calm and act naturally to show your dog nothing is wrong. I have trouble with this all the time with my dog, who is leash aggressive. But every time an off-leash dogs comes running up, I take a deep breath and talk to both dogs with a calm, normal voice – and it does really help not escalate the situation.
3. Close the doors and windows and turn up the radio.
Drowning out (or at least lessening) the firework noise can take your dog down from Level 10 Freak out to a more manageable Level 6.
4. Let them cope how they choose.
If your dog likes to hide under the bed, jump into the bathtub, or wedge themselves behind the couch – LET THEM. If they go into their crate, leave the door open in case they want to run somewhere else. One of the saddest things I’ve heard owners doing is locking their dog in a crate while they go out and the dog chews her way out in a panic. (My dog has broken all her canine teeth in half from doing this before I adopted her.)
5. Do a medication practice run.
There are several things your vet can prescribe as sedatives but please always try dosing your dog prior to the big day. You never know when a med is going to make your dog feel weird and therefore, react more frenetically to stress. It’s important to remember that they don’t understand when they feel different and sometimes it scares them.
6. Over the counter sedatives.
Dogs can usually take the supplement melatonin or the allergy medication Benadryl (diphenhydramine) safely and it helps them become a little sleepy and more relaxed. Consult your veterinarian for dosages and if your dog is okay to try it. (And again, try it on a calm day first to see how your dog reacts.)
7. Tire them out first.
A big, long hike or run right before showtime can really help take the edge off anxiety.
8. Distract them.
Use toys, food, smells – anything your dog typically responds to – to calm them during the height of their freak out. Dogs are in the moment so if you become a BIGGER MOMENT than the firework noise, they’ll relax.
9. Keep them inside.
So many dogs will try to escape and bolt once the noise kicks in. Make sure your dog is in the house, safe and secure. And microchips are always a great idea in case they do run off – at least you’ll have another hope of them being returned to you.
10. The leash umbilical cord.
Some dogs respond to being on their leash, “connected” to their owners. It works for some people to tie the leash to their belt loop and let their dogs walk around with them while they go about their normal business.
Your veterinarian may have some more tips for you. Don’t give up – with a little preparation and thought, you can get through the holiday even with the most anxious of dogs.
And – of course – we always have a nice, quiet refuge at WOOF if need be.
XOXO and be safe out there!
Vickie Jean @ WOOF