DOGS AND DYNAMITE: 4 Tips for the 4th of July

Roni Holewinski, CVT
Industry Representative at Pet Poison Helpline

4th-of-July-PuppyWe hear all the complaining and grumbling from friends on social media about fireworks waking the baby and scaring the dog.  If you are one of these people, please read on, and if you aren’t, read on anyways and educate your friends.  Fourth of July celebrations should be exactly that: celebrations!  It can be stressful when you have a frightened dog, but hopefully these tips can help you and your furry friends enjoy the nation’s birthday party while staying safe and anxiety-free.

1. Desensitization

This should be done well in advance of Independence Day celebrations, but can be worked on starting TODAY to calm your dog for future exposures to fireworks and thunderstorms.

What: Helping your dog overcome an already-established fear or phobia of fireworks, thunderstorms, and city sounds by desensitization behavior modification.

How: Play recorded firework shows on your stereo at your home several times a week, for several weeks, gradually increasing the volume so your dog gets used to the booms and cracks.  Start slow and work your way up to speaker shaking sounds.  Stay relaxed and reward your dog with treats and play when his attitude is calm and he isn’t displaying any fearful behavior.

2. Identification

Be sure your dog is wearing proper identification in case he gets spooked and runs off.  The flight or fight response can sometimes takeover when an animal’s stress level raises or he becomes particularly frightened by loud sounds.  Protect your pet with identifying tools!

What:  City tags, microchips, and identifying name tags fastened to a securely fitted collar are great tools to help your pet make his way back home to you if he becomes lost or picked up by animal control.

3. Medication

Sometimes a dog is so frightened that the humane thing to do is to sedate the animal during particularly fearful situations.

What: Antihistamines, melatonin, and even benzodiazepines (such as Xanax® and Valium®) can be used with dogs that have extreme fear or phobia of fireworks and storms.  These dogs would also be good candidates for desensitization behavior modification.

How: Talk to you veterinarian to see if medication is safe and appropriate for your pet.  If medications are used, they should be gradually introduced and given during non-stressful times so the effects don’t increase fear when given during storms or firework events.

4. Create a safe haven or find one!

What:  Dogs feel more secure in an enclosed, comfortable place.  Kennels, crates, and gates can create this haven in your home and encourage dogs to feel safe.

How:  Keep your dog kenneled or in a secure bathroom during 4th of July festivities.  Do not bring your dog to firework shows or allow him outdoors while celebrations are underway.  Reduce the chance for his flight or flight response by keeping him in a comfortable and safe place.  If you know that your neighborhood is particularly noisy, bring your dog to a familiar family member’s home or boarding facility.

Everyone deserves to enjoy 4th of July Festivities and hopefully these tips can make things more tolerable for pets and their owners!  Happy birthday America!