Summer is here, and the Fourth of July is just around the corner. Who can help but be excited about all the food, festivities, and fun that go along with the warm summer days? Cookouts, family camping trips, long days at the pool, and of course the amazing fireworks displays. Our pups are definitely excited about the hot dogs and burgers, but they would prefer to do without the fireworks.
Fireworks aren’t just going off on the Fourth. Some towns have summer celebrations; there are fairs, local league baseball games, and summer weddings that all end with a shower of fireworks. Every neighborhood also has That Guy. That Guy who thinks it’s awesome to shoot off firecrackers at 2 AM on a random Wednesday. All of this leads up to a few stressful months for your dog.
Fortunately, there are ways you can help your dog cope with the fear response brought on by fireworks. These ideas aren’t just for the summer, they can be adapted to help your dog through any stressful situation. So grab a lemonade and take some notes while we go over how to keep your dog calm during fireworks.
How To Help Your Dog Have A Stress Free Summer
So how can you keep your dog calm during fireworks, especially the ones you weren’t expecting?
Start by giving your dog a safe place. This can be a room your dog goes to when she's feeling overwhelmed… that has her bed and toys arranged in a place she can safely hide. If your dog is crate trained, they may think of their crate as their comfortable spot. You can even have a special toy that you bring out to keep her distracted. Keep your dog’s safe spot ready to go so she always has her own place when she is feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
Some dogs respond well to acupressure. Try an item like an anxiety jacket, the best-known brand is the Thundershirt… or check out a calming cap like the Happy Hoody. An anxiety jacket acts almost like a weighted blanket for dogs, applying gentle pressure to areas that are supposed to help bring a sense of calm. A calming cap gently applies pressure around the ears, which dogs find calming, and also helps to muffle sounds. If fireworks start unexpectedly it's no trouble to whip one of these items out and wrangle your dog into one.
A well exercised dog tends to be a calmer dog since they’re too tired to be stressed. Try taking your dog out for a walk early in the evening. Your dog will already have done their business by the time any fireworks start up and won’t be caught outside when the noise starts. They’ll also be tired from a recent walk and may even sleep right through the ruckus.
Have some music or white noise playing, especially if you aren’t home. Not only will this drown out any loud noises, but studies show that music is calming for dogs in general. If you won’t be home, there are music apps specifically made for dogs. You can also just leave the radio playing. If you are home with your dog, this may be a good chance to explore new musical genres. The same studies showed that some dogs found classical music boring and preferred the rhythms of soft rock and Reggae.
Food or a new toy can work as a distraction if you have a dog that is only mildly startled by fireworks. Try distracting them with a chew that will take some effort to work through… or play toss with a new toy. This may keep your dog too busy to worry about the noises coming from outside.
To muffle the sound of fireworks, make sure you keep your blinds and your curtains closed in the evenings. When you aren’t home, it’s a good idea to have your dog stay in an area where sounds are not as loud to keep her stress level down. Remember to keep that music playing as a calming tool wherever your dog is hunkered down.
If you feel like your dog needs a little extra help, try calming treats. These usually include calming ingredients like chamomile that help relieve anxiety. You can also give pheromones a try. These are chemicals naturally produced by dogs that are supposed to have a calming effect. You can find pheromone diffusers online and in most pet supply retailers.
Try to get your dog used to the sound of fireworks. Playing Youtube videos with fireworks can help your dog become more familiar with the noise… and less likely to become stressed and startled. This is a process called desensitization or counterconditioning. Don’t crank up the volume, but keep the sound present. If your dog starts showing signs of stress like pacing and panting, it’s time to stop.
Even if your dog is desensitized to the sound of fireworks, it’s never a good idea to take them to a fireworks show. They may not be scared by the sounds, but the smells combined with crowds can quickly become overwhelming. Remember, the Fourth of July is the time of year when the majority of missing pets disappear. Taking your dog to a fireworks show could be setting them up to become a statistic.
Even if you keep your dog inside, accidents happen. Your dog could squeeze out of a window, jump out a screen, or a guest could accidentally leave the door open a little too long. Make sure your dog is wearing their tags at all times and that your contact information is up to date. A dog wearing proper identification is much more likely to make it home if they bolt from fear and get lost.
Don’t be afraid to ask professionals for help. Talk to your vet if your dog seems to have anxiety that is overwhelming and affecting her quality of life.
If you need more suggestions or you still don’t feel like you know what to do, reach out to a dog trainer like Dog Friendly Living! You can set up a virtual or in-person appointment and go over your concerns with someone experienced in dog training.