Canines And Fireworks

Last minute tips to help your dog through the Fourth of July
By Karen B. London PhD, July 2018

There are a ton of things that you can do to help prepare your dog for the fireworks—those beautiful yet evil noisemakers that make many dogs hate the Fourth of July. The thing is, some require advance work, like playing tapes of fireworks and using desensitization and classical conditioning to help your dog overcome the fear of them, or discussing with your veterinarian whether medication would be appropriate for your dog.

If you haven’t already taken steps to prepare your dog ahead of time, either because life has a tendency to happen or because you have just acquired a new dog, these in-advance solutions are just not an option, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. I’m sure that you want your dog to come through to July 5th with as little psychological damage as possible, so what are your options? At this point, it is all about avoidance, management and damage control. That is, the best way to handle this wonderful (for most people) but horrible (for most dogs) day is to focus on just getting through it. Don’t worry about trying to teach your dog anything or making long-term progress. Just try to protect your dog as much as you can. Specifically, that means:

Stay inside. Having a dog who fears loud noises or is even a bit uneasy about sudden bangs makes the Fourth of July a real threat to well-being. The best thing you can do for your dog is to keep her inside. Don’t take her to any of the festivities or to places with crowds. It’s just not worth the risk.

Create a safe space for your dog. If your dog is happy in a crate, that is a great option. Covering it with a blanket can make it extra cozy, though if your dog objects to a change, revert to what is normal for her in the crate. Keep your dog in the most quiet and comfortable place possible, as long as she feels at home there. (Basements are great for quiet, but if a dog feels stressed and or as if she has been banished, putting her there can be counterproductive.) A room without windows is usually better than one with windows. In addition to choosing the room with care, do what you can to mask the noise of fireworks as much as possible. That may include closing all windows and doors, lowering any window coverings and adding ambient noise from a fan, a television or radio, or by playing music.

Stay with your dog. Sure, you may have plans to go to parades, barbecues and road races in addition to a fireworks display, but if your dog is really panicked, it would be a great kindness to stay home and keep her company. That can make it so much easier for many dogs to get through the day, but you have to weigh your own needs and desires against those of your dog. If you stay home with her and there are still loud sounds that are stressing her out, do what makes her happy for as long as she can focus on that. Playing with her, giving her loving and attention, providing treats or giving her stuffed Kongs or great things to chew on may help her have a good day instead of a bad one. If she is too upset to engage in any such activity, hold her or comfort her in any way that seems to provide relief. It may cramp your style to be home, but it might really help your dog and be worth the trouble.

Do you have a plan for your dog this Fourth of July?

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.

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