Updated for 2016. Enjoy!
It’s almost the 4th of July! Hooray!
Unless your a dog.
Yep, we all know how Fido feels about this fun-lovin’ holiday. It’s right up there with having your nails clipped or your temperature taken with the trusty ol’ rectal thermometer.
If you’re like most dog owners, you worry for your dog’s sanity every 4th of July (or New Year, or rain storm). Whether you are hiding indoors with your dog or hosting the big party, here are a few things you can do to help your dog cope with the noisy celebration.
First: Consider whether your dog’s reaction to loud noises is a normal fear response or a full-on phobia.
A Normal fear response is hiding with some willingness to come out, avoiding the sound, snuggling up to you (not climbing on your head), and maybe a little whining or barking. Your dog will be visibly stressed, but still able to eat, drink, and respond well to play.
If your dog has a normal fear of loud noises you may be able to reverse their interpretation of this stimulus through counter-conditioning and positive association. You can do this by offering loads of fun attention and treats during noisy times. Try playing the Find It game, Hide N’ Seek, or practicing fun tricks. Play inside where it’s quietest. Playing these games may take their mind of the sounds entirely, and, with some consistency, it may even create a positive association with those noises. Noises=fun time!
A phobic response is more intense, including some or all of these symptoms: shaking/quaking, excessive salivating, refusal of food or treats, cowering, stiffening “freezing” of the body, climbing on your head and wrapping around you, vomiting, diarrhea, and excessive panting.
Phobias are more difficult to resolve with dogs (just like with people), especially when dealing with elements that are out of our control like storms and fireworks. Managing your dog’s stress becomes more important in these cases, and is an essential part of treatment.
Fireworks are visual and auditory stimuli. Inclement weather is even worse in some cases because the pressure and energy in the air changes. Your dog can feel this as well as hear it and see it, creating a scary sensory overload that can make them physically ill. Storm phobic dogs can easily make a correlation between thunder and fireworks, creating the same extreme response for both. As the dog ages, these reactions tend to intensify unless something is done.
Resolving phobias is challenging and may require the assistance of a professional. Even then, when it comes to storm and loud noise phobias, we may only see improvement. Prescription meds are often required to assist in modifying this behavior, and it can take some time and diligence before progress is noticeable.
The good news is, while resolving these issues can be challenging, you can reduce the stress that these fears and phobias cause by being prepared ahead of time. Think of it like damage control for a fearful dog and a little bit of relief for the phobic dog.
Consider these ideas when trying to give your dog relief from fireworks, storms and other loud noises:
- Keep them inside. Stray dogs flood the shelters every 4th and New Years. Why? Because they are left in backyards where they panic, escape, and are traumatized for life. Don’t leave your dogs unattended on the 4th. Secure doors and windows if you are leaving, or kennel a kennel trained dog. Tell your neighbors not to do it. Tell your friends, family, strangers…Sing it from the roof tops! DON’T LEAVE YOUR DOG OUTSIDE.
- Don’t try to force your dog to cope with fireworks. So you’re home and you think, if Fido could see that we are just playing with fire for fun, he’d understand. No. He wouldn’t. Dog’s are smart – they know that fire equals danger. Every ounce of survival instinct they have is going to tell them that this situation is not a good one. Considering the number of people that blow their fingers off playing with fireworks every year, they’re probably right. If you want to guarantee that your dog has issues with loud noises, show them fireworks. Keep Fido inside. See rule number 1.
- Give them a small safe spot in the house to hide. Whether that’s close to you or a closet, bathroom, or their kennel, pick a place they can go to feel safe if needed. If your dog’s bed is under a window, move it. Would you want to hang out by a window with WWII going on outside? Nope, and neither does your dog.
- Don’t ignore your dog. This is a common myth perpetuated by ‘as seen on TV’ dog training. It’s misunderstood and commonly interpreted wrong. Sure, you could pass your own fear onto your dog if you are acting fearful and gasping at the loud sounds while coddling them. Don’t do that either. Just relax, talk to them, tell them they are good, and try to take their mind off of the sounds. Play a little, act natural. Keep it light and fun. Your calm, relaxed behavior is contagious in these situations and will help your dog. Ignoring them is not the answer.
- Use a Thundershirt. If you don’t have one, a small blanket or towel draped (or even snuggly wrapped) over your dog may help them calm down. There are also some handy tutorials online for wrapping your dog in a makeshift thundershirt. This is just the first that comes up: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N83oXBZy0KM There are others using t-shirts and blankets. Sometimes it’s just about finding what works best for your dog. The pressure may help your dog feel calm. *Note: Don’t leave your dog unattended with a wrap or thundershirt on.
- Exercise them well! Make sure your dog’s mind and body are worked out thoroughly with exercise and training games so they can sleep instead of panic. The 4th of July is a great day for a swim and a little obedience practice!
- Feed them early. A full settled tummy is calmest.
- Drown out the sound. Leave the TV on, run a box fan, or leave classical music playing. Yes, their ears are better than ours and they will probably still hear it. It still helps.
- Get prescription meds. Giving a dog with a severe phobia veterinarian prescribed medicine to help keep them calm may reduce their reaction and prevent them from becoming ill. It’s worth it if nothing else works. There’s no point in letting them suffer.
- Use a homeopathic remedy. There are tons of options from calming treats to mouth drops. Our favorites include:
- Skillful Paws “Peaceful Paws” Essential oil blend. Topical, apply to chest, paws, and bedding. Available at Lofty Dog, Tomlinson’s, and Bentley’s Biscuits. Locally made too!
- Happy Traveler. Available at Lofty Dog, Tomlinson’s, Bark N’ Purr, and Bentley’s Biscuits
- Homeopet’s Anxiety Drops. They also offer a TFLN blend and a Travel Anxiety blend that have both provided great results. Available at Lofty Dog and Bentley’s Biscuits
*Note: Homeopathy has mixed results. Some things work for one dog while another experiences no change. Some dogs require a higher dose. In any case, consult with your vet first and always monitor your dog after giving them a new supplement or topical spray. While we’ve never seen averse reactions to the above mentioned products, they can occur.
Whether your dog is just fearful or has a severe phobia, anything you use to help calm your dog will be more effective if you use it about 20 minutes prior to the event. For the 4th that means wrapping your dog, getting out the supplements, medicating, or whatever your method about 40 minutes to an hour before fireworks start popping.
If your dog starts whining, pacing, panting, getting clingy, yawning persistently, tongue flicking, or is generally restless, these can all be early signs of stress. Don’t wait. Once the dog hits a certain level of emotional stress, it can be very hard to come down from. Err on the side of caution knowing earlier is better.
Stay safe and have a happy Independence Day!