Surviving Fireworks with a Terrified Terrier


Happy Fourth of July!

Celebrate Independence. 

Just don't let your dog be independent, at least not this weekend. Statistically more pets go missing during July 4th & January 1st more than any other time of year. The reason? Fireworks!

A fear of fireworks is a fairly common phobia in pets. They often find the loud, unpredictable noise and bright display of light truly frightening. Even a seemingly confident dog can tremble and whine at the unfamiliar sounds. If you have a new pet in your household and are unsure how they will react, compare their behavior during thunderstorms. It is better to err on the safe side and assume your pet will react negatively to the fireworks until proven otherwise. Regardless, the good news is there are a few things you can do to help your pet get through the festivities.

The following things may help with dogs who have a mild to moderate fear of fireworks (and you can also apply this to the thunderstorm scenario!)

  1. Don't change your behavior. Many people feel compelled to baby their pets when the dog is showing signs of fear. We pet them more than usual, cuddle them, and talk to them in soft voices. Rather than easing a dog's fears, however, this often reinforces the dog's fearful behaviors.
  2. Try not to react to the fireworks yourself. If you jump or tense up when you hear fireworks because you are anticipating your dog's fear, you may make his fear worse. Your body language needs to tell your pet that there is a reason to be afraid.
  3. Drown out the sound of the fireworks. Try to turn up the radio or television and keep your windows closed during the celebration. If the weather permits (as in July, not January) a fan or air conditioner can help too. Even a white noise machine could provide distraction.
  4. Don't push your dog past his comfort zone. Allow him to hide if he feels more comfortable in his crate or under a bed. (Or in the closet or bathtub or glued to your hip!) Don't pull him out of his space or try to force him closer to the fireworks in an attempt to get him used to the sounds. This may result in an increase in fear, and a frightened dog may become aggressive if pushed past his comfort level. 

For dogs with a severe phobia nothing may work to ease the anxiety and fear. Some veterinarians may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication or mild sedative to keep your dog calm. However, there are natural alternatives that may be effective. Discuss these with your vet for possible interactions with other medications. Click the links for more info on each item.

  1. Dr. Bach's Rescue Remedy. A combination of flower essences combined to provide natural herbal calming.
  2. Melatonin. A natural sleep aid for humans, it can also ease a dog into relaxing. Try to administer at least 30 minutes to an hour before the expected stressor.
  3. Peaceful Pooch Kelp. Specifically formulated to help your dog stay calm during anxiety filled moments, such as thunderstorms & fireworks. Even helpful for separation anxiety.
  4. Thundershirts. A compression shirt for pets, this apparel is designed to make your dog feel secure. So effective, they even make them for cats!

However you choose to help your pet be sure that you do keep a keen eye on them ALL weekend. As previously mentioned more pets get lost during this summer celebration than any other time of year. A sudden burst of fireworks can cause an otherwise off-lead reliable dog to bolt into the unknown. Many pets escape their backyard fences & pens out of shear desperation to flee the fear. Bring your outdoor dogs (and cats too!) into the garage, basement or a spare bedroom to keep them escape proof. Put your dog on a leash or runner and WATCH them every second they are outside, day or night.

Many people will celebrate more than once, especially since it's a three day weekend. Excess fireworks not used on July 4th  may be fired at any time for possibly the next week or longer. And don't think you're in the clear just because you're in city limits. Many towns & cities disregard the "illegal fireworks" calls due to the shear volume of reports during patriotic holidays. (Trust me, I dispatched Spartanburg 911 for over a year!) Take the precautions even if your neighbors didn't put on a show last year. It doesn't mean they won't do it this year!

I know this a lot to read but I hope this information opens your eyes to the possibility of losing your pet due to fear and also provides the tools to help you prevent it. 

Please feel free to share with friends and family, post to social networks or print & distribute. If it keeps one pet out of the shelter or off the streets then it is worth repeating!

Peace, Love & Paws,

~April, mother of a fireworks & thunder fearful Jack Russell Terror!

     (No, I didn't misspell terrier.)


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