Preparing for the 4th: Keeping your Pet Safe During Festivities

June 30, 2017

While shooting off fireworks on the 4th of July and having a BBQ with family and friends can be popular with humans, these festivities can be very stressful for our pets. While some pets are unfazed by fireworks and parties, others find the entire experience very frightening. That fear can take many forms – a dog’s drooling might increase, he might pant more often or tremble a bit, or he might try to crawl under your bed or into your lap. A cat may start drooling, his coat may poof up, or he may try to hide. Some pets are so scared they take off running. If your pet is scared by loud fireworks or holiday gatherings, there are some things you can do to help them, both in the moment and with some planning ahead.

In the weeks before the 4th of July, it’s time to start training and preparing your dog. One place to start is with crate training. Crates can be a place of comfort for dogs and if properly trained, they can learn to seek security in a crate during stressful times. You want to slowly build up your dog’s comfort with being crated by feeding meals inside a crate, tossing delicious treats into the crate, and gradually building up the time your dog is enclosed in the crate. You don’t want to just place your dog in a crate and walk away – that is stressful and can build unpleasant associations with the crate. There are lots of resources online to help crate train a dog. If you are not able to crate train your dog, or have a cat or other pet, plan on setting aside a secure, quiet room to be your pet’s safe place during the fireworks or parties. Giving your pet bedding, toys, treats and affection in that room in advance will make their time there less stressful. Another type of training you can do in advance is noise desensitization to help your pet become accustomed to fireworks sounds. You can buy CDs that are specifically designed by training professionals to address noise phobias. Trainer Victoria Stilwell has a Canine Noise Phobia CD series that you can buy online on her website, and Through a Dog’s Ear also has music designed to facilitate relaxation in dogs.

To help your pet relax and to drown out the sound of fireworks, consider purchasing a fan or white noise machine in advance to set up near the crate or in the safe room. Another good item to purchase for your dog is a ThunderShirt- special apparel designed to wrap around the dog in a comforting way that can reduce anxiety and provide some relief during stressful events. Prior to July 4th festivities, also discuss with your veterinarian the possibility of anti-anxiety medication. Your veterinarian can recommend some over the counter solutions or prescription medication to help reduce your pet’s fireworks anxiety.

Make sure to know when fireworks or parties are starting, so that everything is ready for your pet, and your pet is put away in their safe place before scary noise begins or lots of strangers arrive. Potty breaks and walks should be done before festivities start. Many pets run away during July 4th when fireworks start and they are outside, or when doors or fence gates are left open during parties. Some pets who feel overwhelmed by lots of visitors and noise may bite or nip out of fear. For these reasons, it’s important that your pet be safe and secured during holiday events. Make sure that your pet is microchipped, licensed, and wearing a collar with your contact information attached on a tag. That way if your pet does get loose, it is much easier to reunite you and your furry friend.

Once fireworks start, do your best to comfort your pet. Contrary to what some might say, you can’t reinforce fear. Providing comfort to a dog might not make him feel all the way better, but it won’t reinforce his fear. If you are hanging out with him, you can also try a training process called counter conditioning. After every boom of the fireworks, give your dog a bit of a special, irresistible treat. This has to be a treat you know your dog is crazy about and wants even when stressed- maybe chicken, peanut butter, squeeze cheese, string cheese, pieces of steak, etc. By following every scary boom with something delicious, you can help your dog learn that scary things don’t have to be scary. Instead, scary things can mean that something awesome is about to happen. If you cannot spend time with your dog during fireworks – and that’s ok if you can’t – make sure you give him something to help him calm down and keep him occupied. Kongs toys filled with peanut butter or wet food and then frozen can provide a great distraction. Chew toys like bully sticks or pigs ears can also be helpful for dogs because chewing is a self soothing behavior and dogs can help relieve anxiety by chewing on something.

With thoughtful planning the festivities of July 4th don’t have to be stressful or scary for your pet. By utilizing these tips, you can ensure your pet stays safe so you can enjoy the holiday!