The Fourth of July is upon us. Although it’s a time for many of us to celebrate our nation, for many American dogs, Independence Day is the most terrifying day of the year — and it can affect a dog’s health and safety.
I’m lucky, in that we only live about a mile away from a baseball stadium where there are frequent fireworks nearly all summer. The fireworks are such a common element in our environment that my dogs hardly notice them. But sound phobia and sensitivity is common in dogs. Many react fearfully to loud, booming noises like fireworks, gunshots, cars backfiring, and thunder. While dogs do not generalize obedience behaviors well, they do tend to generalize fear and phobia well, as this is a survival mechanism. Many dogs who are afraid of fireworks are also afraid of thunderstorms or other loud noises, and the protocols for therapy are the same for all noise phobias.
Tips for Dealing with Fireworks Phobia in Dogs
- Don’t be afraid to give your dog comfort. As we discussed in Fearful Dog Week, the idea that one reinforces fear through comfort is a myth. Be your dog’s advocate — do whatever you can to make her feel better during the fireworks and other loud noise.
- Consider implementing some of the calming aids we discussed in Fearful Dog Week, including sound therapy and perhaps a Thundershirt.
- Don’t take your dog to a fireworks display. If you must leave her alone on July 4, put her in her safe place and leave soothing music playing in your absence.
- Keep your dog on leash at all times when outside for walks or potty breaks, even if you are not near a formal fireworks display, and even if you are in your own neighborhood where she is reliable off the leash.
- People may set fireworks off at family barbecues or picnics, so it’s best to leave your dog home if you’ll be attending these events. If you insist on taking your dog, keep her on leash! One of the most reliable dogs I ever knew off leash disappeared and was never seen again when someone unexpectedly set off fireworks at a bonfire that his owners had attended. Frightened dogs are unpredictable dogs — use management tools to keep your dog safe.
Resources for Dealing with Fireworks and Thunder Phobia
- 8 Tips for Keeping Your Dog Calm on July 4, by Lisa Spector at Dog Star Daily.
- Thunderstorm Phobia in Dogs, by Patricia McConnell, who holds a doctorate degree and is a canine behaviorist.
- Dogs and Fireworks, a project undertaken by British behavior professional and Dog Star Daily blogger Karen Wild, which is the most thorough resource I know on addressing fireworks phobia specifically. Wild has also written a free e-book on the subject, and she provides a downloadable MP3 recording of fireworks sounds for use in desensitization sessions.
I hope these tips will get your dogs through the holiday with minimal stress. The Fourth of July is also my dog, Mokie’s, birthday, so make sure you give your dog plenty of treats to celebrate with us!
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