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How to Keep Your Dogs Calm During 4th of July Fireworks – Outside

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What may sound like freedom to us can create total sensory overload in your pup
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Ask any dog owner how they feel about Fourth of July fireworks and they’ll likely share a story of finding their pup whimpering in the bathtub. All three of my large, rambunctious dogs hate the loud explosions caused by fireworks. Over the years I’ve developed a system that helps my dogs stay calm during America’s loudest tradition. Here’s how I get them ready.
Dogs have an acute sense of hearing. Lacking the superior eyesight of humans, dogs rely on their ears and noses to perceive the world. A dog can hear much higher frequencies than we can (think: dog whistles), and can detect sounds from four times farther away. So, fireworks that sound distant to you sound a lot closer to a dog.
Compounding that, few dogs take classes on American history, and may be unable to place the sudden presence of sky explosions in appropriate cultural context. What sounds like freedom to you and me may simply be an unexpected, unpredictable, unknown source of an unnatural sound. One that comes with a foul odor, too. Fireworks can just create total sensory overload to a pooch.
Not all dogs are frightened by the sound of fireworks—but your dog will exhibit a few telltale signs if he or she is. Wiley, my oldest, digs holes (really big ones) and attempts to hide in them while shaking in fear. Bowie, our husky middle dog, clings to us like glue. Teddy, our 125 pound grizzly fighter, cries and seeks reassurance by manically licking our faces.
Signs of anxiety in dogs include:
Fireworks terror can manifest in other behaviors. A frightened dog may become destructive, chewing, scratching, or digging in an effort to alleviate or escape from their fears. And it can cause harm to itself or property in the process.
Signs that a dog is attempting to escape is something all dog owners should take seriously. Just because a crate, leash, or fence works for a dog during normal times does not mean it will be adequate at keeping a panicking dog safe.
Socialization is key. During a puppy’s normal socialization period, make sure you’re encountering loud, unfamiliar sounds, and provide positive reinforcement throughout the process. Start with small sounds that are far away, and work towards louder sources that move closer. Match progress with the dog’s reactions.
You can socialize for sound just like for anything else they may encounter. A starter pistol is a classic tool employed to help hunting dogs adjust to gunfire, and can help with fireworks, too.
The easiest way to deal with loud explosions is to avoid them altogether, and there’s nothing dogs enjoy more than a camping trip. Plan on heading somewhere far away from other people, either by driving off-road to get there or by throwing on a backpack. Heck, why not combine the two?
This is the plan my wife and I opt for most years. But, having already spent four months this year traveling, we just don’t have any more in us. In the past, destinations that have worked well for us are places most other people can’t (or won’t) go. Here’s some tips on finding those.
Benadryl is an antihistamine that can treat allergic reactions and adjacent symptoms. It’s also a sedative. It can help dogs feel relaxed and sleepy. Consult your vet before administering any drugs. Maximum safe dosage for dogs is typically one milligram per-pound of body weight every four hours, but I find that one 25 milligram pill is plenty for my dogs, which range from 75 to 125 pounds in weight.
If you have an extremely reactive or sensitive dog, then your vet may already prescribe a sedative. Ask them if July 4th is an appropriate time to use the drug, and for proper dosage instructions.
Tight-fitting clothing or bedding can provide dogs with a sense of comfort. This is the theory behind the Thundershirt, which supposedly wraps dogs in a calming embrace. Of course, you can do the same yourself, or by giving them a heavy blanket or towel to hide under.
July 4 is not the time to expose your dogs to novel or potentially frightening experiences for the first time. But if they are already crate trained, then this is the time to use that crate. Dogs who find crates to be reassuring places will feels safer in one.
A dog who is frightened of fireworks may chew, dig, or jump around in an attempt to reduce their anxiety. Removing rugs, furniture, keepsakes and other stuff you don’t want destroyed from areas they have access to is a good idea.
If you do plan to shut your dog in a room, garage, or basement, make sure that area is one they’re familiar with, and that it’s safe for them. Remove anything that could poison or harm them if spilled, broken, or consumed. Make sure that space remains cool. And try to predict any damage they may cause. Depending on how much destruction your dog may be capable of (spoiler alert: it’s a lot) taping carpet, cardboard, or even polyethylene folding tables to any wooden doors may help minimize the permanent effects of scratching.
Leaving a dog in a fenced enclosure like a yard should be avoided if at all possible. If you must, make sure it’s a fence that your dog can’t tear open, jump over, dig under, or otherwise defeat. Make sure the yard’s surface isn’t something you don’t want dug up. Ensure they have adequate water and shelter from heat.
If you plan to have your dog with you somewhere outside of your home (such as that camping trip), keep them on a leash. Even if you don’t plan to encounter fireworks, there’s always a chance. This is also good advice for the week or so surrounding the holiday, when fireworks may be set off at any point.
I’ve never encountered a dog capable of chewing through one of my braided climbing rope leashes, or who can break a climbing rated carabiner. I attach those to my dogs using a Ruffwear Front Range harness. Those transfer forces off a dog’s neck, and into its torso.
If you’re taking a dog outside of your home during fireworks season, never let it out of your site, even if they’re tied up. Even a brief period of escape may expose them to chaotic holiday traffic and other risks.
If you’re crating your dog, throw heavy blankets over the crate to minimize noise. A white noise machine, calming music, or just watching a movie can help drown out the sound of explosions, too. But nothing is more effective at eliminating sound than going underground. If you have a basement, that will be the quietest place in your home.
A tired dog is a good dog. Wake up early, when temperatures are still cool, and take them for a long walk or hike. You’ve got the day off work anyway, so why not make the most of it?
It’s also a good idea to give your dog an early meal in advance of a night full of explosions. Giving their food plenty of time to digest will minimize odds of any of it escaping from either end while they’re freaking out.
And don’t forget hydration. Your dog needs access to fresh, cool water, and plenty of it.
Even equipped with all the above, your dog may still panic and find itself in distress. Your dog may still destroy stuff, or worse, put itself in danger.
Just remember: the thing your dog finds most reassuring is you. They’re your best friend, don’t abandon them on the scariest night of the year.
What are my plans this July 4th? I’m going to take my dogs up a nearby mountain in the morning, watch them play in a stream afterwards, and then come home to grill myself a steak, feed the dogs the scraps along with a Benadryl, then retire into the air conditioning to watch “Godzilla vs. Kong” on my couch. Sounds like a pretty good day off to me.
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