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Tips for Managing Canine Anxiety during the 4th of July Holiday

Updated on June 22, 2013

It’s almost here! The quintessential American Holiday----July 4th----Independence Day! A day for socializing, BBQ, and everyone’s favorite-----Fireworks! Unfortunately, while people absolutely LOVE loud, explosive light displays----Many, MANY dogs do not. Fireworks are one of the primary causes of severe noise anxiety in dogs. Sadly, we are unable to tell our beloved 4-legged friends that the fireworks won’t harm them and that they will be safe. For many dogs, it is not just the loud BOOM that causes anxiety. It’s also the high pitched whistle noises of smaller fireworks, the sulfur smell that permeates the air, and the fact that they are often left alone with their anxiety, that contribute to escalated fear responses.

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Let’s discuss the behaviors dogs may exhibit when they are showing anxiety toward fireworks:

  1. An inability to stay in position or stay ‘settled’. The pet won’t lie down and seems agitated and anxious.
  2. Sudden bolting away from the sound percussion.
  3. An increase in panting and shaking and escalated heart rate.
  4. Running and hiding--- the dog may even seek comfort in odd locations, such as under the bed or a basement bathroom.

Fear of Fireworks is not easily fixed and most dogs never get over their fear. The fear may even escalate as the dog gets older. Part of the challenge with fireworks is that they are an infrequent event in the dog’s world. Most of the year, there are no fireworks and then suddenly---BOOM! It is very difficult to desensitize dogs to fireworks which present so infrequently.

Here are some things you should NOT do:

  1. Never take your dog to a fireworks display event. Even if your dog has never shown anxiety around loud noises before, Odds are extremely high that close proximity to a large fireworks barrage will give rise to strong noise anxiety in your dog.
  2. Do not attempt to manage your dog’s fear by assertive control measures. Forcing your dog to lay down or stay in one position when he’s afraid is not productive and will escalate the dog’s fear.
  3. Do not attempt to ‘coddle’ or ‘baby’ your dog during fireworks. In your genuine attempts to support your dog through hugging, petting or coddling, you may be inadvertently VALIDATING their anxiety and making it worse.

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How To Help!

Here are some suggestions you can consider to support your firework-phobic friend:

  1. Stay calm and ‘matter of fact’ when managing your dog. Have the dog remain close, and speak calmly. Offer food or a favorite toy to divert his attention from the noises outside. Keep offering food or even ‘tease’ the dog with food in your hand to keep his interest as long as he’s experiencing anxiety.
  2. Turn up the volume of the TV or put on the stereo to help drown out the percussion noise outside. Put on calming classical music or purchase a dog anxiety calming music CD available online and in pet stores.
  3. Consider using an anxiety treatment tool such as wrapping your dog in a blanket, towel or purchasing a Thunder Shirt or Thunder Cap. Some dogs benefit from the calming effects of being swaddled with gentle pressure.
  4. Put cotton balls or ear plugs in their ears. CAUTION: Make sure balls/plugs are large enough to prevent sliding down the ear canal and getting stuck.
  5. Spray D.A.P (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) spray on his bed. D.A.P has been shown to create a calming effect for some anxious dogs. D.A.P is available on line and in pet stores.
  6. Let him go where he wants to go to feel safe. If he wants to hide under the bed or crawl into the downstairs bathtub----let him.
  7. If your dog understands the positive reinforcement clicker method, this is a very powerful tool that may lesson his anxiety. You may incorporate clicker/reward for easy behaviors such as the dog touching your hand or staying calm. The power of clicker may distract your dog from focusing on the fireworks. It is best to implement the clicker game BEFORE the fireworks start, so he is distracted and doesn’t focus on the sounds as they begin.
  8. If your dog is not trained with the clicker, bring out something ‘very special’ such as a favorite or novel toy to help distract him. Be aware if your dog is already in escalated fear mode, he may not want to eat any type of treat you offer.
  9. If your dog’s anxiety is so extreme, he is unable to cope, speak with your vet about the option of sedation. There are mild oral sedatives available via prescription that may ease your dog’s anxiety. It is VERY important you give the sedative several hours BEFORE the fireworks begin. If your dog is already in high anxiety mode and has escalated heart rate and adrenalin pumping, the sedative will NOT work.
  10. Lastly, you can always leave town and go to some quiet area for the 4th of July.

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Help your furry friend have a safe, secure and anxiety free holiday! He'll thank you for it!

Happy 4th!

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