6 Vet- and Owner-Approved Tips for Keeping Your Dog Calm During July Fourth Fireworks
You might love Independence Day celebrations, but your dog probably doesn't. Keep your pup happy with these handy tips.
Dan AveryFormer Writer
Dan was a writer on CNET's How-To and Thought Leadership teams. His byline has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, NBC News, Architectural Digest and elsewhere. He is a crossword junkie and is interested in the intersection of tech and marginalized communities.
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The Fourth of July is a time for backyard barbecues, pool parties -- and fireworks. Though you might love the pyrotechnics, your dog may bark and howl or hide under the bed. According to the American Kennel Club, a large number of pooches even run away during the Independence Day holiday.
"They don't know where the noise is coming from and they try to escape because they don't understand," said Dallas Harsa of lost pet recovery service AKC Reunite.
"It can be the smell. It can be the noise and the flashes of the light," New Jersey veterinarian Judy Morgan told the AKC. "Your dog may tremble, shake, shiver, howl and bark -- some of them get frantic."
Some dogs get so anxious during the light show that they have to be sedated. Before it comes to that, though, check out a few handy tips for keeping your pup calm during fireworks, from veterinarians and a few of my pet-owning coworkers.
1. Think twice before taking your dog out
The social atmosphere and warm weather might tempt you to take your dog out to see the fireworks show, but it can take years of desensitization and positive reinforcement to make a dog relaxed around fireworks.
If you do take your dog out on Independence Day, be sure to use multiple forms of restraint and have them microchipped and tagged, said Jana Bone, a veterinarian at Skyline Animal Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
A seemingly calm dog may suddenly get startled and bolt, Bone said.
Krista Scholdberg, a software engineer with CNET's parent company, Red Ventures, said her family had to work for a long time to get their Belgian sheepdog, Omega, to enjoy fireworks. She advises training your dog to get used to loud sounds when they're a puppy.
"Be prepared with lots of high-value treats and pass them out every time there is a boom," Scholdberg said. More important, she added, stay relaxed yourself.
"They will pick up on your cues and get more stressed when you are stressing about them being stressed."
Scholdberg started training Omega when he was little and, at just 2 and a half years old, he's completely unaffected by fireworks and other loud noises.
"We're in South Carolina, where fireworks are legal, so anytime people start setting them off, we go outside," she said. "I give him treats every time."
2. Create a safe area
To get started, keep the curtains closed and try to bring your dog to a part of the house without windows or glass doors, like the basement or even a closet.
"We've had dogs run right through glass doors," Bone said.
Keep the lights low -- or off -- and fill the space with a dog bed and his favorite blanket and toys. A dog might even prefer a crate or kennel during the fireworks.
If you can, stay home with them during the light show or find someone the dog knows and trusts to be with them.
3. Drown out the sound with music or white noise
Leave the TV or radio on high volume or run the air conditioner or fan to help cover up the booming fireworks.
There's even specific music shown to lower anxiety in dogs, like the Through a Dog's Ear CD series.
4. Take them for a walk well before the fireworks start
A trip to the dog park well before sunset can help ensure your pooch won't have to heed nature's call during the fireworks.
It can also help him work off excess energy and relax him for the evening -- as will extra intense playtime during the day.
"Use a Kong with peanut butter to keep them occupied and some soothing music or white noise," said Red Ventures recruiter Sophia Rossell Romo. "You want to tire them out earlier that day so they have less excess energy."
RV administrator Samantha Kuykendall uses what she calls the "popcorn party" strategy.
"We pop a bowl of plain popcorn and every time a firework goes off, we call it the 'popcorn alarm' and toss our dog a few pieces," Kuykendall said. "After a bit she stops stressing out and looks to us for a snack every time there are fireworks!"
5. Try a Thundershirt or anxiety wrap
Human babies are calmer when swaddled in a blanket and fur babies are the same way: Swaddling a dog with a blanket can be difficult, though, so you might want to try a ThunderShirt.
"It's basically like a weighted blanket for your dog that velcros around them," Bone said.
You can also go low-tech: "I've used a snug-fitting T-shirt to help with the anxiety," Red Ventures engineer Christopher Turley said. "It's helped a lot not only for fireworks, but for thunderstorms. There are commercial products, but even a good old T-shirt helps."
6. Talk to your veterinarian about medication
If your pet's anxiety is severe, talk to your vet about giving them medication. Bone said she often prescribes a combination of an anti-anxiety medication, such as trazodone, and a sedative, like gabapentin.
"We'll often start them a few days before the fireworks are expected," she added. "If we can stay ahead of the anxiousness, we can get control. You definitely don't want to wait for the first loud noise to give your dog medication."
Red Ventures senior engineer Thomas Hopkins has gone through several options with his mom's dogs. They now both get a dose of Trazodone any time the family knows they'll be near fireworks.
"Definitely let your vet guide you on medication," said Hopkins, whose wife is a veterinarian. "It's possible your pet could benefit from longer-term anxiety medication."