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Help with Fireworks Fear
What’s your strategy for a blast-o-phobic dog?
Renzo and I will be skipping the local fireworks display, viewed here from Gas Works Park in Seattle.

I have never been a big fireworks fan. I think it’s a whole lotta noise and smoke and garbage for nothing. In the past, I’ve kept my opinion to myself and skipped the displays because a lot of people love rockets and fountains and Roman candles—why do I need to be a buzzkill?

Of course, there are plenty of dogs in my camp. I’ve heard the stories about dogs wimpering, shivering, drooling and fleeing yards in anxiety. Until recently, I’ve counted myself lucky that my dog Lulu is chill when it comes to the whole flash-crash-boom thing. But last year we adopted a rescue dog from Alaska, and he’s an entirely different kettle of fur. He doesn’t like loud noises. The few times neighbors have celebrated with firecrackers has sent Renzo into a fury of agitated barking. What will I do now that the big dance is here?

Normally, we would flee to the quiet of the mountains but this year we have obligations that keep us in town in a house that is equidistant between two major municipal displays and ground zero for a slew of DIY pyrotechnicians. Ugh. My local Humane Society has sent out a notice of how to prepare. With four main points—keep dogs inside, create a calming environment, keep them away from fireworks, update identification—it's only a start for me.

So I’d love some expertise from the field. How can I keep Renzo from a full-blown night of terror? I’ve heard that some dogs feel safe and serene in a bathtub. Does that really work? Has anyone tried a T-shirt or a cape? What about sound therapy? Flower essences? Medications? What has worked for you?
 

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Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom. lisawogan.com

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Submitted by Kristin | June 30 2009 |

I'd love to read other people's tips as well. Each year this day gets more stressful as my dog grows older. She's 11 now and has always been terrified of fireworks but now little everyday noises are scaring her so I'm even more concerned about the loud fireworks this holiday. I've read that plenty of exercise the day of helps, as well as cranking up the volume on music in the house to drown out the bangs. I'm curious about how putting a T-shirt on her would help, so I'll be researching that a little more.

Submitted by Anne | July 2 2009 |

My dog is scared of thunder and fireworks, and as time passes he's also scared of smaller noises, including small indoor sounds, and getting stressed when it rains during the night. Sometimes I can't even hear the rain, but he can, and I wake up to find him pacing around and trembling. I bought an Anxiety Wrap, but it's hard to put on so I haven't used it often. Maybe I'll try a very small t-shirt. I use Bach Rescue Remedy, which usually does help. I may try getting a white noise machine, and try the treat idea during a thunderstorm.
We had fireworks yesterday (Canada Day) and I wasn't home. He was home in his crate, in the back bedroom with the door shut. I don't know if we can hear them from here (I just moved) but he seemed OK when I got home. Good luck with your fireworks.

Submitted by jill | June 30 2009 |

Conditioning. When our girl was only 1 year old we lived in a town that had no ordinance against fireworks, she was so scared and upset, ears flat, tail down. I was petting her in the basement the most quiet room in the house, but nothing was helping. My husband was grilling burgers and we had an extra so I broke it up into little pieces and every time there was a boom we gave her a hunk of meat. It worked so well that by the end to the night she was watching out the window and as soon as she saw the telltale sparks she would run to us for her bit of beef. it became a great game. We had to go to the store and get more burger, but it was worth it!

Submitted by Kathy Konetzka-Close | June 30 2009 |

I'm fortunate enough to live in the Midwest, so we get LOTS of thunderstorms (and lots of opportunities to practice dealing with loud noises emanating from the sky). I can't remember where I read this idea, (it may have been in one of Patricia McConnell's books) but every time the thunder rolls, I make some kind of fun remark like "Wow! That was a big one!" and give Wyatt (my Collie) a cookie. After about the second or third treat, he ignores the storm completely and waits for me to realize it just thundered and it's time to give him another treat. It helps that he's also crate trained, so at night when it storms, I don't do the treat thing unless it's a really bad one and he's really restless. Most of the time he feels safe in his crate and the storms don't bother him. I've also tried the flower remedies and I think they help a bit to take the edge off, but honestly, making the experience "fun" made the most difference. Now I only have to treat every once in awhile, but I still make it a big deal when I do. All that fun thunder means Mom acts silly and Wyatt gets cookies, so it's a win-win. Obviously, with dogs who are extremely upset at the noise of fireworks and storms, this may not work so well. But if you can keep the anxiety down to a low level (via crating, playing a radio, using the anti-static wrap, etc., etc.) then it may be something that helps as you work through the phobia. If all else fails this year, it might be a good idea to have your vet prescribe a mild sedative as a backup plan. Then, once the hub-bub is over, try de-sensitizing your new dog by using a thunderstorm CD. My husband and I also run a white noise machine all night long, and it's set to rainstorm, so Wyatt hears it every night. I think that has helped him, too. Good luck!

Submitted by Heather Sanders | June 30 2009 |

Sedaplus is a wonderful herbal blend of valerian, passion flower, and chamomile, all of which soothe the nervous system, promote relaxation, and calm anxiety. It works wonderfully in stressful or fear-inducing situations. http://www.holisticpetinfo.com/proddetail.asp?prod=Sedaplus

Submitted by Jan D. | July 1 2009 |

Our 6 year old standard poodle, Rosie, used to be terrified of thunderstorms and fireworks. When a storm approaches we put a t-shirt on her and tie the tail in a knot to draw it in close to her body. She quiets down right away. My sister told me her in-laws who train horses in FL always go out and put blankets on the horses and cinch them up when there is a hurricane warning. Guess that makes animals feel more secure? We also noticed one time when we were away from home on the 4th, and without a t-shirt, that Rosie quieted down during the fireworks when we put her in the car and started home. Even though we drove along the river front in a neighboring town where they were setting them off, Rosie remained calm in the back seat. She is a car lover, probably would not work for dogs that don't like cars either.

Submitted by Anonymous | July 2 2009 |

Bach Flower Essence Rescue Remedy works for thunderstorms and fireworks. It can be found at most health food stores. It is also helpful for other stressful situations like going to the vet. I simply put the drops in the palm of my hand and the pet licks them right up. I've learned this is best done as soon as the first sign of storm/fireworks. Waiting until a full blown trauma sets in makes it difficult to administer the drops.

Submitted by Karole | July 2 2009 |

Our little girl Mitzi who is now 11 has been blind now for 2years. Prior to that she was petrified during thunderstorms (we live in Los Angeles so there is not too many) and especially on the 4th of July and New Year'e eve. Thanks to everyone's suggestions I am going to use the thunderstorm setting on our sound machine days before, wrap her up in her favorite T and cook some burgers...and laugh all night!

Submitted by Auntie Belinda | July 4 2009 |

Fireworks are a big deal at New Year's in Hawaii. One of our dogs is shakingly afraid of thunderstorms so we bring him indoors. We used to do the same with fireworks, but slowly built up his trust. Now he makes the distinction between nature's roar (which I figure is a heatlhy take-shelter fear) and the man-made pops and whistles, to the point that he will come outside with us, sit down, listen to our reassuring ooohs and aaahs, and watch the bright lights in the sky.

Submitted by 4DogMa | July 4 2009 |

I am blessed with 4 who will go outside with us on the 4th and act as though nothing special is happening. Especially loud bangs get their attention momentarily (we get small earthquakes that sound very similar) but then they're back to playing. They weren't always this way, tho. Starting with one calm dog, an Aussie mix, they all gradually learned and took their cues from the human and calm dog activities that went on regardless of the noise. Patience - for one dog it took 2 years - and a few very special treats enticed them to forget their fears. Only 2, of five we've had, were raised from a puppy; all are rescues. Old dogs can learn new tricks! :-)

Submitted by alice soliman | July 5 2009 |

I have two rescue dogs one is fine with the noise the other is terrified. He follows me everywhere and tries to hide. I usually go to sleep early close the windows put on the fan and the ac for the night to dull down the noise i only take him to the yard for out time. this is the best i can do so far.

Submitted by Mary | July 5 2009 |

We have 2 dogs - a 16 year old beagle who used to be very afraid of the fireworks noise and an 18 month old labrador who I'm not sure how she would be. We go camping every hear in a fireworks free state or national park, so we don't have to deal with it. My dogs love camping and we all love the peace and quiet.

Submitted by Jim R | July 6 2009 |

Our 2 year old Bassett, Floyd, was petrified of fireworks (and gunshots) last year. In preparation for the 4th of July this year, we got him a prescription for Zanax from his vet.

It worked pretty well, but I think I'd go for a different remedy next time... After all, if the dog is already pretty mellow, giving him an anti-anxiety med just made him more mellow... I think we both heard him singing "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds..." as he was sleeping on his pillow.

Submitted by Britt & Mini Au... | July 6 2009 |

From the time our Brit was about 3, she was terrified of thunderstorms and fireworks (she just turned 12 on July 1). She'd been our only dog, and we did what all uninformed, well-intentioned people do: we tried to comfort her during t-storms & firework-holidays. (Oops!) Then 18 months ago we adopted an 11-month-old Mini Aussie from a rescue, who'd spent his first 10 months of life in a cage @ a puppy mill. He was terrified of everything else -- grass, blowing leaves, sidewalks, stairs, doorways, etc -- but not t-storms or fireworks. So, although usually it's the scared dog who transmits fear to the unscared-one, in our case it worked the opposite way. Our Brit hasn't been scared of t-storms/fireworks ever since the little guy joined our family. But, just to be safe, my husband & I both make sure we remain calm as possible during those events, and will also have each dog do some tricks &/or obedience work (for super-good treats) at times during the events.

Submitted by AliKat | July 10 2009 |

Our dog Misha is terrified of thunderstorms & fireworks. We can't leave the house if either one of those conditions is approaching. One good thing she does is hide in the bathtub, which is ok, except for the wet paw prints everywhere when she gets out. However, usually, she will chew apart some part of the house. We have wood closet doors & floor molding that is shredded from times we have not been here. But, by far the worst thing she has done is when she destroyed the vinyl siding and the aluminum door frame on the side of our house. We had tried just about everything on the market that claimed to de-stress or calm down pets but nothing worked. Then someone suggested Rescue Remedy..thank God! She still get a little panicked, but most of the time she will just sleep through it now.

Submitted by JestrGrrl | July 17 2009 |

Vets will prescribe a mild sedative for dogs around the holiday time. We did that with one of our dogs years ago.

My dog I have now, could have cared less with thunder and fireworks. Then one year the neighbors up the hill decided to do their own fireworks show over our yard and house. Roxy went banana sandwich on us!

Now the thump of a car door closing, the slam of the neighbors screen door or the pop of a nail gun sends her running for under our bed.

I saw a program on TV years ago that a dog specialist helped a dog with this fear by playing a thunder sound CD on low and would then up the volume over a period of time. The dog soon stopped hiding in the closet at the sound of thunder.

Haven't tried it, but it seems logical.

Submitted by Ellen | July 2 2010 |

Here's an article I wrote with several suggestions you can try!

http://naturaldogdetective.com/fireworks-survival.html

Submitted by Anonymous | July 4 2010 |

I give my dog a Benadryl to make her sleepy, close all the windows and turn on the A/C unit, and put in a movie. If it's movie with shooting and car chases, it helps because when fireworks start going off outside, she doesn't notice. (Unless they're next door; then they're just too loud to cover up.) It also helps to give her something to do (we run through her gamut of "tricks" she knows) and reward her with treats. This takes her mind off the fireworks or thunder. Of course, that's a bit hard to do if you have a storm that lasts an hour or two. Rescue Remedy hasn't helped for us. :( Mostly just keeping her mind focused on something else she REALLY likes or covering up the noise has worked.

Submitted by CJ | July 7 2010 |

Last year my puppy was cool as a cucumber with fireworks & thunderstorms. Then this May 24 weekend my neighbour set off firecrackers over her head while she was out in my yard (it was during daylight hours to boot), and she's been terrified of thunder & fireworks since then. I've started counter-conditioning, but also find the Thundershirt works wonders. It provides steady pressure and calms her down (thunderstorms aren't waiting for me to ease into louder noises). It works on the same principles Temple Grandin described with cattle being held in chutes to give their vaccinations. Last weekend when I pulled the shirt out after a firework went off Zanzi went straight into it. I honestly don't know how we would've gotten through July 1st without it.

Submitted by MJ | July 12 2013 |

My little Shih Tzu was rescued from a puppy mill at the age of 4. Having spent so much time in a cage left him with many fears. Last year I purchased a Thundershirt and it helps calm him tremendously. He is fearful when it rains during the night, as well as thunder and fireworks. I purchased them as gifts for my family members and have heard positive praise from them, as well. I highly recommend them.

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