3 Ways to Help Your Dog Survive July 4 Fireworks
While you may enjoy the blast of fireworks on July 4, your dog may be terrified. An animal behavior specialist offers three suggestions on how to help your dog survive July 4 and similar frightening events as well.
Although not every dog has a noise phobia, those who do can be tremendously traumatized by fireworks. No matter how a dog with noise phobia reacts—with panting, digging, barking, trembling, hiding, or chewing furniture—remember that the dog is terrified and is not intentionally destroying your property or misbehaving. Punishing or yelling at the dog is the worst thing you can do.
Therefore, days before the first bottle rocket is launched or cherry bomb explodes, you should have a plan on how to help your dog survive the holiday.
According to animal behavior specialist James Ha, a psychologist at the University of Washington, there are three main approaches to dealing with noise phobia in dogs, with several options associated with each approach. The three coping mechanisms are management, treatment, and medication.
Management involves taking control of the situation; say, by drowning out the sound of the fireworks by placing your dog in the basement and playing loud music. Another option is to send your dog on a mini vacation to a location with which the dog is familiar and that is removed from fireworks, such as a kennel or the home of a friend or relative who can be with the dog. Be sure, however, that the location is one in which the dog is comfortable.
You may also chose to treat your dog with either a short-term or long-term option. A short-term treatment may include use of a special acupressure wrap that has been designed specifically to calm dogs who have anxiety or thunderstorm phobias, although no products have yet been developed especially for fireworks.
Several such products are on the market, including Anxiety Wraps, Thundershirt, and Storm Defender. Both Anxiety Wraps and Thundershirt apply pressure to acupressure points while Storm Defender works by protecting dogs against static electricity associated with thunderstorms.
Another treatment option that can completely resolve a dog of anxiety over fireworks and other noise issues, but one that requires a significant time commitment, is counterconditioning. Even though it’s too late for counterconditioning to work for your dog for July 4 fireworks this year, you may want to begin work now so your dog will be ready to face any future fireworks, regardless of what time of the year they occur.
Counterconditioning involves gently and slowly exposing the dog to the situation that frightens him—a recording of fireworks or a thunderstorm, for example—at levels that are manageable for the dog and rewarding the dog for behaving. This technique should be tried several times a day.
If you are consistent with the training, most dogs become used to the previously offending noise after about a week. In other words, the dog has become conditioned to accept the fireworks or other noise.
Antianxiety medication can be prescribed by a veterinarian so your dog can get through the night or two of fireworks. One such medication is Acepromazine, which relaxes the central nervous system. This drug should not be given to dogs who have a heart or liver condition or who experience seizures.
Antidepressants also can be prescribed. However, these drugs take longer to become effective and so are not helpful for one-time situations. However, some dog parents find that using antidepressants while engaging in counterconditioning helps reduce anxiety while the dog is being conditioned, then the drug can be stopped.
Some pet parents find natural remedies can provide some relief, although dogs with moderate to severe cases of noise phobia are much less likely to respond. Chamomile, passion flower, and the amino acid theanine may be helpful in relieving anxiety.
Help your dog be safe and survive the July 4 holiday with as little anxiety as possible. If fireworks, thunderstorms, and other loud noises frighten your dog, you may want to consider counterconditioning as a permanent solution so future loud situations will not bother your dog.
University of Washington