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Dogs and Fireworks: July 4th Survival Guide for Pet Owners

The Fourth of July has long been celebrated in the United States with loud, colorful fireworks lighting the night sky. Unfortunately, dogs and fireworks often don't mix. While we’re celebrating, our canine companions may be experiencing significant fear. Read on to learn how to identify your dog’s fireworks anxiety and find pet safety tips and calming techniques to help your pup survive the holiday.

Why are dogs afraid of fireworks?

Your dog has quite a few reasons to fear fireworks. Fireworks involve sudden, unpredictable, loud bangs and flashes of light, which are startling for many dogs. The smell of gunpowder, which is not common for most dogs, may also contribute to the frightening experience. Keep in mind that your dog has much more sensitive senses of hearing and smell than you.

A lot of your pet’s behavior is affected by the socialization and desensitization that occurs when young. Fireworks are not something your dog is likely to have encountered positively as a puppy. If your dog experienced loud noises negatively during puppyhood, they may carry this learned fear of loud noises into adulthood.

Noise aversions and noise phobias may also play a role in your dog’s fear. For example, if your dog fears thunderstorms, they will likely generalize this fear to other loud and sudden noises like fireworks.

Signs of firework anxiety

Signs of firework anxiety range from mild and quickly resolving to severe episodes that last all night long after the fireworks have stopped. Recognizing signs of anxiety can help you comfort your dog before the fear escalates and better prepare for the holiday in future years.

Signs of dog anxiety include:

  • Vocalization (whining, barking)
  • Dilated pupils, flattened ears, or tucked tail
  • Loss of appetite
  • Excessive panting or drooling
  • Pacing or restlessness
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Hiding
  • Seeking attention or clinginess
  • Startling easily
  • Abnormal aggressive behavior (growling, lunging, biting)
  • Trying to escape
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How to prepare your dog for fireworks: 6 actionable tips

It’s better to prepare your dog for fireworks beforehand than to react to fear after they've ended. Follow these tips to help your dog remain calm this Fourth of July.

1. Ensure your dog is microchipped and has ID tags

According to the American Kennel Club, the July 4th weekend is one of the most common days of the year for dogs to escape and become lost. You’ll want to ensure your dog is easy to identify and return should they get out of your home or yard.

There are two things you should do to increase the likelihood that your dog is returned to you:

  • Make sure microchip information is current. If your dog isn’t microchipped, make sure to get one placed as soon as possible and then register the microchip with your most recent contact information. Because microchips don’t actively transmit signals, they do not allow for tracking pets. Instead, these passive chips act as a permanent form of identification. Microchipping pets dramatically increases the return-to-home rate for lost dogs. Animal control and animal shelters routinely scan new dogs to see if they are microchipped.
  • Get a dog ID collar or tag with their name and your number. If your dog becomes loose, the person who finds them can call you. If your dog already has a tag, make sure your contact information hasn’t worn off and replace the tag if this is the case.

2. Find a safe place for your dog to stay during the holiday

Dogs should be kept indoors during fireworks displays. Not only are fireworks frightening to many dogs, but they also present opportunities for severe injury to curious dogs. If you can, keep your dog in a room away from windows or doors.

If your neighbors are setting off fireworks, and you have a pet with severe fireworks anxiety, you may see if more remote friends or family will host your dog (and maybe you) for the evening. If you’re going to do this, you should ensure it’s with someone you trust whose home is familiar to your dog.

3. Help your dog feel secure

Creating a safe space for dogs with their favorite bed, toys, and blankets is a good idea. Offer crates or covered dens for hiding, and ensure there are delicious treats for them to enjoy. You can also use pheromone sprays to encourage calm. Consider playing familiar music or television shows. Your dog's safe space should be a place they're comfortable with. If your dog isn't crate-trained, now is not the time to do so.

4. Try calming pheromone sprays and calming supplements

Calming pheromone sprays, such as Adaptil®, could be sprayed around your home and in your dog’s safe space to reduce canine stress before the fireworks start for the evening. You could also set up pheromone diffusers in your dog’s safe haven.

Your dog may also do well with anxiety supplements such as VetriScience® Composure Chews or vet-approved CBD treats. Give only supplements your veterinarian approves. Some supplements may not be safe for dogs with specific health conditions.

5. Put an anxiety wrap or vest on your dog

Anxiety wraps or vests, like ThunderShirt®, apply constant and gentle pressure to your dog’s torso, similar to a firm hug, to help keep your dog calm. While these vests may not work for every dog, some pets adapt well to them. Put the vest on your dog before the fireworks begin.

6. Pre-medicate with dog anxiety medication

For dogs with a history of fireworks anxiety, especially severe enough as to constitute a phobia, anti-anxiety medications given prior to fireworks are your best bet. Speak with your veterinarian early to set your pup up for success. Options include medications like trazodone, gabapentin, alprazolam, or dexmedetomidine (Sileo®).

How to keep your dog calm during fireworks

It’s harder to calm your dog if they’re having an active anxiety reaction to fireworks. While we’ll go over some ideas here, keep in mind that it’s best to take preemptive rather than reactive action for fireworks anxiety.

Calming techniques during fireworks

Try to remain calm yourself. You shouldn't punish your dog, nor do you want to coddle anxious behaviors or accidentally reinforce them. Yelling at or striking your dog while scared will only add to their anxiety. Try to reassure your dog. Some dogs respond well to hiding under blankets or sitting with their owner or in their owner’s lap.

You can try to drown out some of the noise of fireworks by leaving on familiar music or television shows. Consider keeping blinds or shades drawn to reduce flashing lights from contributing to anxiety.

You can also attempt to distract your dog with fun games like fetch or delicious treats like peanut butter-stuffed Kong® toys or fun puzzle toys.

Some calming aids like vests or medications may still be helpful, but you're more likely to have success if you implement these calming aids before the anxiety starts.

Optional techniques: desensitization and counterconditioning

A veterinary behaviorist or dog behavior consultant may help reduce a dog's fear of fireworks through pet desensitization and counterconditioning. Desensitization involves gradually exposing your dog to a stronger stimulus over time to reduce anxiety. For example, fireworks sounds may be played at a low volume and gradually increased over time as long as your dog isn’t displaying an adverse reaction.

With counterconditioning, your dog is trained to display a different behavior in response to a stimulus than the one they’re currently displaying. While you’re desensitizing your dog to fireworks, you’ll give praise and treats as a reward to associate fireworks positively.

Desensitization and counterconditioning will require you to work with a trainer or behaviorist to set up an effective plan, but they may make the Fourth of July more tolerable in years to come.

Recovery from noise phobias

For dogs that have been traumatized by fireworks or have developed noise phobias, recovery will likely require a combination of efforts from your veterinarian and a trainer or behaviorist. You will likely be instructed on how to perform desensitization and counterconditioning for your dog in conjunction with supplying your pet with behavioral medications.

The veterinary behaviorist or trainer may also help you teach your dog to relax on cue. This skill may come in handy for dogs with fireworks anxiety, mainly if the fear response is mild.

When to call the vet

Call a veterinarian if your pet remains anxious despite trying at-home management, if anxiety results in self-injury, or if your pet is destructive during anxiety episodes. Your veterinarian can determine if behavioral modification therapy or medications would help with your dog’s fireworks anxiety.

If your dog has a history of extreme anxiety on the Fourth of July and you’d like to try medications, call your veterinarian as soon as possible. The veterinarian is more likely to help your dog if you don’t wait until the last minute to request pharmacological intervention.

By understanding your dog's fear, creating a safe environment, and planning ahead, you can help your dog enjoy a calmer and safer Fourth of July. Remember to seek professional help from a veterinarian and/or dog trainer to set your pet up for success in the holidays to come.

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