Dogs and Fireworks!

June 23, 2015

I have nothing against fireworks on the Fourth of July. It’s tradition after all – and a fitting way to commemorate our country’s independence. What does concern me, however, is the launching of fire crackers weeks before the Fourth and in the weeks following, mainly because the extended celebration is pure torture for my three dogs.

Not wanting my 70-pound labradoodle to claw his way on to my lap after every loud bang – like he did last year at this time – while the two little dogs hide crying and quaking beneath the bed, I turned to my colleagues at Kitsap Humane Society for advice. Our veterinarian, Dr. Jen Stonequist, and our canine behavior coordinator, Deana Case, had some great recommendations and resources to share for dog owners whose pets suffer similar angst.

The most important thing, says Case, is to start desensitizing your dog early. Don’t wait until the bombs are bursting in air to put your relief plan into place. “There are CDs of fireworks noise you can play at low volume to get them used to the sound.”  This approach works best for puppies or young dogs that haven’t been exposed to the loud noises. The intense fear may already be ingrained in an older dog that hasn’t been desensitized.

It’s also best to get your dog acclimated to a “safe room” well before the Fourth, Case advises. The most insulated interior room, without windows if possible, works best as a place for your pet to wait out the rocket’s red glare, along with the big booms and smoke. By making it a place of comfort where you play with your dog and make plenty of toys and chew sticks available, your pet won’t feel as if he’s being punished when he’s closeted away on the actual holiday. A box fan to create white noise or playing music can also be distracting in a good way. “Dogs do like Mozart,” says Case. The company, Through a Dog’s Ear, sells CDs designed specifically to soothe your dog’s nerves.

If you can’t be with your pet in the safe room on the Fourth, put something with your scent on it – a pillow case or T-shirt for instance – in the room. Take your pet out to pee early, before the action starts, and consider replacing a bowl of water with ice cubes so he/she can wait longer before needing to venture outside. Although it may seem contrary to what you’re trying to accomplish, try giving your dog some space if cuddling and petting don’t seem to be working, Case suggests. “Sometimes that can be too stimulating.”

If all else fails, there are always medications that can help your pet relax. “Talk to your vet about the best medication to use,” says Dr. Jen. “There are some over-the-counter options, as well as some stronger prescription medications.” The medication should be given a week or so before the Fourth to see how your dog reacts, she says. You don’t want to wait until the day of to find out it doesn’t work.

It’s never pleasant for your dog to experience an intense reaction to severe stress, and for some it can be downright dangerous. If there’s a pre-existing condition such as a heart or respiratory problem, says Dr. Jen, it can put them at risk for complications.

Perhaps the simplest – and most challenging – thing we can do for our pets during traumatic times is to remain calm. The calmer we are, the more likely they are to do the same.

Karen Matthee is the marketing and communications director for the Kitsap Humane Society.

This article appeared in Kitsap Week on July 12, 2015.

firework safety