For many of us with dogs, it's not a happy time at all. In fact, we dread its arrival, can't wait for it to be over and would love to be able to crawl into a deep, dark, quiet cave with our beloved canine companion for the duration of what is supposed to be a celebratory time for our country.
On Dogs and Fireworks: An Unsafe Combination.
Hear that? Well, your dog hears a LOT more.
"The frequency range of dog hearing is approximately 40 Hz to 60,000 Hz, which means that dogs can detect sounds far beyond the upper limit of the human auditory spectrum. In addition, dogs have ear mobility, which allows them to rapidly pinpoint the exact location of a sound. A dog can identify a sound's location much faster than a human can, as well as hear sounds at four times the distance." [Wikipedia]
Step into your dog's paws and imagine being four times closer to the fireworks display than you, as a human, would choose to be. Then imagine hearing more sounds coming from them. What we experience from fireworks is but a fraction of what our dogs are subjected to. This combined with their inability to locate the source of the sounds can render even the best socialized, well-trained, well-adjusted dog a virtual trembling mass of jello.
The bottom line: dogs want to be safe.
Fireworks are unpredictable noises for which dogs cannot identify the source. The combination of sound and inability to understand where they are coming from can make even the most stable dogs tremble… for hours. Each individual dog is different and some are more resilient than others.
If you have fireworks in your area, your dog's safe home - your home - without any warning whatsoever, suddenly becomes a place of terror. You, as his owner, are his advocate - you must make him feel as safe as possible. There are things you can try in order to help your dog get through this Fourth of July and prepare him for next year's "celebration."
Signs of Stress:
panting, drooling, lip-licking, yawning, ears back, tail tucked, pacing, trembling, attempts to escape, hyper vigilance, wide-eyed, unresponsive to known cues, mouth closed, hunched posture, disinterest in food, seeking hiding place or human proximity, etc.
Things to do for your dog:
1. Keep him as far away from fireworks as possible. Do not take your dog to fireworks displays. It is not worth it! Even if your dog is "fine" with fireworks now does not mean he will stay that way. It's an unfortunate truth that dogs frequently become sensitized instead of desensitized with each additional exposure, and the level of the reaction can grow each time. A dog who takes several hours to bounce back this year may take a half a day next year. "Fear is sticky." Our dogs' natural self-preservation efforts include attaching what seem to us to be unrelated factors to the object of their fear. An example is the dog who is fearful of going outside following fireworks. Or the dog who becomes fearful of all city environments after witnessing a public fireworks display.
2. Keep your dog on leash and wearing identification tags when outside. More dogs get loose on the Fourth of July than any other holiday.
3. Safe Zone: your Dog's Sanctuary. Create your dog's special sanctuary - it might be in the basement or in a back room or the bathroom. Condition your dog to love it on a regular basis, outside of the times when you'll actually need it. Feed him meals there, play his favorite games in it, provide him a comfortable place to lie down, offer him special treats. Crates are ideal and most dogs, of any age, can be trained to enjoy being in them. A dog closed in his crate has the peace of mind that nothing bad can enter it.
4. Soothe. Coddle! It's okay to soothe a scared dog: it's a myth that this will strengthen his fear! Be sure your soothing is actually soothing to him, though. Long, full-body stroking with some pressure may help; rapid patting will probably hinder. Your dog will tell you - if he leans in for more contact, he's saying "continue," but if he tries to avoid you, he's saying, "please stop." You, too, need to do something to calm yourself. It's very stressful for humans to be with their stressed dogs!
5. Chewing: "Comfort Food." Give your dog something extra special to chew on, like a big raw meaty bone." If your dog normally loves food but refuses it, it's an indicator that he is overly stressed. Try to do other things suggested to bring down his stress level so he might be able to eat.
6. Garments. Purchase a Thundershirt or other anti-anxiety wrap like the one Astro is modeling here.
The science behind these is solid and they are well worth a try for minimal cost. You can also put a snug t-shirt on your dog or carefully wrap him with with an Ace Bandage (see video link for details to do it correctly).
7. Over-the-Counter Help Give your dog Rescue Remedy (kids' version, alchohol-free).
8. Stronger Medication. Does your dog have a severe reaction to fireworks? Does he frantically try to escape, injure himself, lose bowel or bladder control? Pharmaceuticals are apprpriate for more severe cases:
Talk to your vet. Panic attacks are not healthy for our dogs in the short- or long-terms.
9. Music. Yes, Music!
Very extensively researched, this is an excellent way to add a calming component to any environment. Check out the website to get samples of calming music.
"Using a combination of specific touches, lifts, movements and ground exercises TTOUCH helps to release tension and increase body awareness and balance. This allows the animal to be handled without provoking typical fear responses. In this way, the animal can move beyond instinct – to act rather than react – and can then learn new and more appropriate behaviors." Look for t-Touch practitioners in the area at:
11. Counter-Conditioning. The Old "Scary" is the New… "Time to Party!"
Put your dog on a Trigger-Bonus Salary! [A "trigger" is anything your dog reacts to]. If you have a puppy, start now and you'll have insurance for the future. Anytime any potentially scary trigger presents itself (like fireworks or thunderstorm, dogs barking, strange sounds, pedestrians going by, etc.), have a party for your dog - whatever he LOVES at that moment. This can be playing a game of fetch, tossing treats to they rain from the sky, playing a game of chase, etc. As soon as the trigger stops, the fun stops. With repetition, you can help instill a positive rather than negative association with scary - or potentially scary - things. It's important that your dog not already be anxious when you practice this strategy.
12. Train! Contact a Certified Professional Dog Trainer to help you help your dog! I specialize in working with anxious and fearful dogs. There is a lot you can do to ease his fears. The sad thing is that fears tend to worsen over time unless we do something about it.
13. Legal Options
Know what the laws are in your area regarding personal fireworks. Speak with your town's officials. Report any violations of the law. Last year here in Maine, the 70 year old ban on the sale and use of fireworks was suddenly lifted by our governor. We were given no choice in the matter and now Maine state law regarding possession and use of fireworks states:
• They can be used from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., except certain holidays, including July 4.
• They must be used on one’s own property, unless permission is given to use another’s property.
• They can not be possessed by or furnished to anyone younger than 21.
This new law horrifies me. A neighbor in a house 100' away can legally shoot off fireworks for 13 hours a day. Our dogs live four times closer. This is absolute torture for our animals and just as bad is how blatantly intrusive a neighbor's fireworks can be for everyone in the surrounding area. Where is empathy? Where has "respect for thy neighbors" gone? There is no fence we can put up to block them. Ah, freedom!
Video of dog anxiety during fireworks
putting ace bandage on dog:
Fearful Dog help: