Post written by Jordan Kendrick, dog trainer.
With the Fourth of July fast approaching, those with nervous dogs are probably getting nervous as well. Dogs becoming lost during fireworks amounts to 30% and July 5th is the busiest day for animal control shelters. Of this 30% of dogs who are lost, only around 14% are actually reunited with their owners. Here are some ways to make the fireworks more tolerable for your dog, some ways to reduce the risk of your dog becoming part of that 30% of lost dogs, some ways to improve the chances of being reunited with your dog, and how to make the next holiday with fireworks less stressful.
As the fireworks are set to occur in just a few days or may be occurring currently, the stressful part of the year is here. To help make it easier on your dog there are several ways to help negate it. If you have a basement, that is one of the best locations for your dog to be in the house during fireworks as the lack of large windows reduces the amount of sound conducted through. In the absence of a basement, a bedroom on the far side of the house to the expected direction of the fireworks can be suitable or a bedroom with a closet towards the middle of the house. If your dog is crate trained, setting up their crate in the selected location can help them feel comfortable but if your dog is the type to blindly try to run during fireworks, please do not close them in the kennel. Blackout curtains can help muffle the sound while also darkening the room. Closet doors being closed if your dog isn’t scared of enclosed spaces does the same. A thick blanket hung over the window of the room or over part of the crate helps muffle it. If at all possible, provide your dog with your company. It can also be helpful to play music, YouTube videos, or white noise to cut the sound of the fireworks. Contrary to advice in the past, it is completely fine and actually helpful to console your dog as long as you are calm. Petting releases chemicals in their brain which are relaxing and it is impossible to reinforce emotions, like fear, in a dog. A long walk during the day helps your dog relax and can make them a bit too drowsy to be overly wary of the fireworks. Consider calling your vet to discuss the possibility of an anti-anxiety medication for your dog specifically for fireworks. It’s a very common issue and medication can help a lot.
Fireworks can cause such intense anxiety that dogs will attempt to escape the experience at any cost, including jumping fences, slipping their collars, and leaping through windows. Apart from the danger of those activities themselves, they also open dogs up to a whole host of risks from the rest of the world. Keeping your dog inside the house is the best way to ensure their safety since most dogs won’t manage to get outside. If there’s any chance they will try, keep your dog on a leash inside the house. This provides you with two opportunities to thwart an escape. If your dog must be outside or needs to go out to relieve themselves, keep them on a leash even in a fenced yard as this again gives you two opportunities to keep them safe.
Such a small number of dogs are reunited after fleeing but you absolutely can improve your chances. First of all, microchip your dog. This permanent form of identification can’t be lost unlike collars. Ensure all your information on the microchip is up to date and consider a trip to your vet to scan the microchip to ensure it is still functional. Make sure your dog has a collar with a tag containing at minimum your phone number. While collars are easily lost, they also provide easy access to your contact information should your dog be picked up. Do not rely on ear tattoos as most are completely illegible within a year or two. In the case your dog has run away during fireworks, don’t panic. Search your neighborhood but don’t be panicked if you don’t find them right away especially if the fireworks are still going on. Should this occur, place your dog’s bed on your front steps (if you can) or in the yard with a bowl of water. No food, as this can attract pests. Join your local Facebook group and immediately make a missing dog post with your dog’s photo, name, and your contact information. Inform your local shelters including those within a few counties. Dogs can easily run for tens of miles during their adrenaline fueled flight. Don’t give up hope, it can take several days to locate them.
Prior to fireworks occurring, your best option to reduce the stress of fireworks on your dog is to work on counter conditioning them to the sound and, if at all possible the vibration. Most dogs only find the vibration slightly more of an issue with the main issue being the noise. There are two ways to work on this, counter conditioning or desensitization. Counter conditioning refers to the introduction of a pleasant stimuli/experience for your dog immediately after the negative stimuli which in this case is the firework while desensitizing is the repetition of the stimuli until it loses its fear-inducing qualities. To put it in more human terms, counter conditioning would be like someone giving you a handful of your favorite snack food after showing you a spider while desensitization is more similar to someone just repeatedly showing you spiders. Starting months prior to fireworks if at all possible, find a YouTube video of a firework show with nice clear firework sounds. For this more intensive training it is best to use your dog’s meals to avoid impacting their dietary balance with a large amount of treats. Every firework noise, feed your dog a piece of food. If they refuse to take and eat the food, reduce the volume. Slowly work on increasing the volume, turning it back down if they refuse to eat.
Fireworks are stressful but these tips should help you and your dog navigate this experience. Keep in mind this only occurs a few times a year and there are many options to help your dog now and in the future. Happy holidays!