Loud noises and sounds can really freak dogs out, and a fireworks show is probably the worst noise monster a fearful dog can face. Bella was afraid of fireworks for years! It was a long process for me to find what works to help her be more comfortable. If you know a night of fireworks is coming up, here are some ways to help your dog stay a little more comfortable, this is especially important if you have a new dog and they have never been with you for 4th of July or other holidays with fireworks.
Plan ahead. It’s a good idea to check for the dates of community fireworks displays during celebratory seasons, and make sure your dog’s collar ID and microchip registration are up to date.
Create distance. When you know a firework display is scheduled nearby, or you see your neighbors setting up for a display, ask a friend if you can bring your dog over for an evening chat or movie – unless your dog finds trips even more stressful. For a few years we went to Morro Bay for the 4th and it was pretty quiet there since the big fireworks show is the next city over in Cayucos.
Set up a quiet safe space in your home where your dog is comfortable and the sound of fireworks is muffled, like a finished basement or an internal room like a walk-in closet. Spend time with your dog there, with toys and treats, well before fireworks season begins. I like to serve dinner in a toppl on these nights since it takes her a while to eat it, I also have other enrichment ready like a lick mat or a puzzle. These keep her mind busy on food and not focused on the noise.
Desensitize your dog by playing a recording of fireworks at a very low level for short periods, multiple times a day, and rewarding calm behavior with treats. If your dog is extremely fearful of noises, before taking this step, think about consulting an experienced dog behaviorist for expert guidance. I have suggestions for you at the end of this article.
Go for a long walk well before dark. A happily tired dog is a more relaxed dog. Exercise your pup with fun play or a long walk so they are ready to nap when night falls. Make sure their collar or harness is slip-proof, because some people celebrate with firecrackers and other noisemakers before darkness falls.
Close windows and curtains to muffle the sound and block out flashes of light.
Turn on the TV, music, or white noise like a fan, to provide a familiar, alternate sound. Make sure whatever you use is already familiar to your dog – even fans can be anxiety-causing if they are fired up without warning. My favorites are a couple fans along with the tv and since we do that anyways at night it doesn’t feel strong to her. Although sometimes I will turn up the volume more than usual.
Try an anxiety wrap. Soft, stretchy jackets and vests built specifically for a dog’s shape are reported to be effective at reducing anxiety. I suggest you slowly introduce your dog to their coat well before fireworks season descends. Bella and Tyra both used the Thunder Shirt and I would say that in Bella’s case it helps more sometimes than other times meaning it’s not a fix for every situation. For example it helped at the vet but not with fireworks. So you just have to experiment to see what works for your dog.
Look into calming aids. Always check with your vet before using them but there is also a wide variety of calming aids available with out a prescription. I love to use Licks for this! I have used Licks for years with great results for a variety of situations. For Bella I use Licks for fireworks and it really helps take the edge off. I also used it for my super senior, Dorothy, who had dementia. She would pace heavily at night andlittle licks really helped her sleep which helped me sleep! Licks comes in packets your pup can eat right out of which is really handy, Bella has no problems licking it all.
Don’t fuss over your dog. I know it’s hard not to be upset when you see your dog distressed, especially when you know they are safe. However, if you frantically console them, or make angry comments about inconsiderate neighbors, your distress or anger can strengthen your dog’s belief that something is wrong. You can certainly sooth your dog, but do so in a calm, reassuring, and positive manner.
Gently distract your dog. Turn those fireworks into background chatter by engaging in normal fun activities like playing with a toy, running through training exercises, or inviting your dog on the couch for a movie night. But don’t pull your dog out from a safe space they have chosen and force your dog to play if they would rather hide.
Consult a professional. Is your dog’s quality of life suffering, or are they so panicked they could injure themselves, or you, while trying to escape? Dog trainers, dog behaviorists, veterinarians, and veterinary behaviorists can offer a range of options from counter-conditioning to medication. Some options include: US and CANADA: dacvb.org/search/custom.asp?id=4709
Any tips you do that you think I should know? let me know in the comments or shoot me an email!
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