How to Help Your Fearful Dog Survive Fireworks Season


The fourth of July is almost upon us. While it is a time for many dogsters to celebrate the independence of our nation, for many American dogs the 4th of July is the most terrifying holiday of the year.

I'm "lucky" in that we only live about a mile away from a baseball stadium where there are frequent fireworks nearly all summer long. The fireworks are such a common element in our environment, my dogs hardly notice them. But sound phobia and sensitivity is not uncommon in dogs. Many dogs react fearfully to loud, booming noises like fireworks, gunshots, cars backfiring, and thunder. While dogs do not generalize obedience behaviors well, they do tend to generalize fear and phobia well, as this is a survival mechanism. Many dogs who are afraid of fireworks are also afraid of thunderstorms or other loud noises, and the protocols for therapy are the same for all noise phobias.

The following three internet resources may be helpful to you in understanding how best to help your dog through Independence Day and summer thunderstorms.

1. Lisa Spector of "Through a Dog's Ear" for Dog Star Daily: 8 Tips for Keeping Your Dog Calm on July 4th

2. Patricia McConnell, PhD and canine behaviorist: Thunderstorm Phobia in Dogs

3. Last, but certainly not least, is a project undertaken by British behavior professional and fellow Dog Star Daily blogger Karen Wild. Karen has created what is the most thorough resource I'm aware of on addressing fireworks phobia specifically, www.dogsandfireworks.com.

Karen has written a fantastic, free e-book on the subject, and provides a downloadable .mp3 recording of fireworks sounds which can be downloaded to your iPod or laptop for use in desensitization sessions. The video at the top of this blog entry is from Karen's Youtube page, "The Wild Paw".

My own tips to clients dealing with fireworks phobia are as follows:

  1. Don't be afraid to give your dog comfort. As we discussed in fearful dog week, the idea that one reinforces fear through comfort is a myth. Be your dog's advocate - do whatever you can to make her feel better during the storm.
  2. Consider implementing some of the calming aids we discussed in fearful dog week, including sound therapy and perhaps a ThunderShirt.
  3. Avoid taking your dog to a fireworks display. If you must leave her on the 4th, put her in her safe place and leave soothing music playing in your absence.
  4. Keep your dog on leash at all times when outside for walks or potty breaks, even if you are not near a formal fireworks display, even if you are in your own backyard or neighborhood where she is reliable off the leash.
  5. People may set fireworks off at family BBQs or picnics, so it's best to leave your dog home if you'll be attending these events. If you insist on taking your dog, keep her on leash! One of the most reliable dogs I ever knew off leash ended up disappearing and never being seen again when someone unexpectedly set off fireworks at a bonfire his owners had attended. Frightened dogs are unpredictable dogs - use management tools to keep your dog safe.

Hopefully, these tips will get your dogs through the holiday with minimal stress. The 4th of July is Mokie's birthday, so make sure you give your dog plenty of treats to celebrate with us!

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