How to Help Dogs Brace for July 4th Fireworks

Keep your pets happy through the holiday weekend.

— -- Between fireworks and thunder from Hurricane Arthur, the fourth of July long weekend is shaping up to be a tough one for dogs.

Dogs become anxious when they hear loud noises like fireworks and thunder as part of their natural instincts for survival, said Dr. Clark Fobian, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. And because their senses are sharper than ours, they can detect a storm coming sooner.

“I think we have to be aware of the tremendous sensory acuity that our pets have,” he said. “If any animal were out on its own and a thunderstorm comes up…that is potentially a very dangerous threat.”

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Though many dogs are afraid, they don’t always show it the same way, according to professional dog trainer Mikkel Becker. Some dogs hide under beds or in corners with eyes darting all around. Others try to self-sooth with excessive grooming, not unlike human nail-biters. And others move from window-to-window and bark.

“What you want to do when the dog acts upset, is you want to redirect them to something different,” Becker said.

Instead of simply petting a scared pet, which doesn’t distract them from the scary noise, Becker suggested whipping out a special treat or playing a really good game of fetch.

For example, her parents’ dog, Quixote, goes into his thunder reaction on road trips when the car goes over a rumble strip on the highway, she said. So they all start to howl, and soon their Yorkie-Chihuahua-Pomeranian mix howls right along with them.

“He’ll forget what he’s afraid of,” she said. “Sometimes, a crazy thing can be the best solution for that dog.”

If you know thunder or fireworks are coming, Becker suggested setting up a special space your dog ahead of time with a few favorite toys and blankets. If your dog tends to move to a certain bathroom or walk-in closet when stormy weather rolls in, that’s a good place to start.

Closing the blinds, playing music and adding a calming scent can help, too, Becker said. She recommended Adaptil, which mimics calming maternal hormones, or lavender oil, as long as it’s out of reach.

Some dogs like heavy thunder garments, like shirts and vests ,which aim to comfort dogs in the same way swaddling helps calm babies, Becker said. But they don’t work for every dog.

Fobian said medications should only be used as a last resort, and never without help from a veterinarian.

Though an estimated 2.8 million dog owners give their dogs calming and anxiety medicines like Prozac each year, according to the National Pet Owners Survey of the American Pet Products Association, Becker said there are other, more natural products made from green tea and milk extracts that work, too. But again, always seek a veterinarian’s guidance, she said.

Other tips:

-Don’t bring your dog to a fireworks show – even if they seem to be OK with noise at home.

-Never try to pull a scared dog out of hiding by force. An already anxious dog can become aggressive.

-Don’t leave a dog home alone during the noise. Ask a friend to dog sit or find somewhere for your dog to stay where he or she won’t be alone.