To a dog, the world is experienced through sight, sound and smell. Usually it’s a pretty interesting place. But on the Fourth of July, it can become a nightmare. The sound of fireworks is closer to the ground than thunder is. The flashing lights are sudden and unexpected. The smell of fireworks is acrid and unpleasant. So while you might enjoy the display, your dog probably won’t.
Of course, we all want our furbabies to be comfortable, and when they are stressed, we become anxious as well. Since Fido watches us for clues to his own safety and contentment, our worry about him increases his own troubled spirit. We’ve come up with 10 tips you can help your own puppy make it through the Fourth of July fireworks with a minimum of stress.
1. Calm yourself down
This is the first and most important one. If at all possible, stay at home with your buddy and act as if nothing is going on. He’ll probably take his cue from you, so relax and watch a movie with your pooch.
2. Give him a “safe place”
Dogs love small, enclosed places when they’re frightened. If you’ve crate-trained your furbaby, make sure he has access to his crate. If not, open a closet door so he can go inside (that’s my dog’s preferred place).
3. Close windows and drapes or blinds
Muffling the sounds of the celebration will greatly help Fluffy feel less afraid. Closing the blinds not only decreases sound, it also reduces the visual stimulation of the fireworks show. Don’t project your own delight at the display onto your dog; he doesn’t find it fascinating.
4. Make sure he’s wearing his collar and tags
If by some awful chance he manages to escape, he will most likely run away from the perceived threat. He isn’t thinking about home or you—he just wants to get away from it all. The Humane Society says their busiest time of year is between July 4th and 6th, so be sure your dog can be identified and returned safely to you.
5. Wear him out
Take Fido to the dog park early in the day and let him stay there until he’s exhausted. A really long walk or game of frisbee or catch will work, too. On this day, more than any other, you really want your furbaby tired out.
6. Technology works
While there are sensory therapies available for your dog, they really require some conditioning to make them work. Even though it’s a little late to start desensition this year, it’s certainly something you might want to look into once the Fourth is over in preparation for New Year’s fireworks. Meanwhile, turn the TV or some soft music on and chill out with your furbaby.
For the especially anxious dog, your veterinarian may prescribe some medication that will help Fido relax and maybe even sleep. Stay with your dog if this is the course you decide is best, because if he wakes up groggy and then hears fireworks, you’ll want to be there to reassure him.
8. Distracting toys
If you absolutely must be gone, leave your pup some interesting toys to play with. Puzzle balls, frozen Kong® toys, and his favorite treats may help to distract him during the celebration.
9. Pressure wraps and vests.
Human psychology has taught us that a frantic child can be calmed by wrapping her snuggly in your arms. In the same way, pressure vests provide sustained, comforting pressure to your furbaby’s torso. If you want to go this route, start by putting the wrap on Fido for twenty minutes to half an hour several times a day before the fireworks start. Trying to get your dog to accept something new and strange at the same time that he is reacting fearfully to the fireworks is an exercise in futility and will only increase his distress.
10. Communicate with your dog
There is a thought that talking to your dog or comforting him when he acts afraid only increases his anxiety. The idea is that you are validating his emotions. However, speaking soothingly and petting gently will not make your dog more stressed out. Knowing that you are there and he isn’t alone to deal with a frightening situation will help him feel safer. So let him crawl up into your lap and treat him like you are happy to have him there. After all, he is your furbaby, and you wouldn’t expect your human child to cope alone with a stressful circumstance she couldn’t understand, so why would you treat your dog that way?
Be safe this Fourth of July. If you decide to go to a fireworks display, please! Don’t take Fido with you. He won’t mind missing out on “all the fun” this time!