The Fourth of July holiday isn't all about hots dogs, apple pie and family barbecues. Dogs (the creature kind) and fireworks can make for a combustible mix.
Some of your neighbors may revel in the noise and the madness. But it can be absolutely maddening for dogs.
"When it comes to fireworks, you can take a few different approaches," said Todd Langston, a Central Florida canine behavior expert and dog trainer for over a decade. "The sound is obviously something dogs don't hear often; it can be a challenge."
A few practical suggestions:
Give them exercise. A tremendous amount of exercise. Think of it as a coping mechanism. Dogs are less prone to get worked up because they are tired. Redirect them to an activity they enjoy doing, maybe throwing a ball.
“As much stimulation as you can provide, and in the early part of [the day] is imperative,” Langston said.
Don't coddle them. If you try to comfort them when they're upset, it's likely they'll feed off that energy and assume you're scared, too, which will make them more anxious and have the opposite effect.
“If your dog insists on hiding, I am OK with that,” Langston said. “If they find a dark corner of the closet and they seem to be able to cope, I suggest leaving them alone.”
If a dog is likely to have a severe reaction, it’s best to call your vet and see if a sedative would be a good fit. If you go that route, make sure the dog gets the medication before the fireworks begin. Dogs that escalate to that level are in peril because “they can rip through walls. They can destroy things,” Langston said. “They don’t understand it, so they go into this powerful state of panic.”
The best advice is to anticipate your dog's behavior and be preventive.
"Every year, there's lots of reports about dogs who escape from houses, end up getting hit by cars," Langston said. "End up on the 417. Disappear. Having a really sound place for your dog that they can't escape from is extremely important."
Bur please be aware: There is no quick fix here, especially if you're dealing with extreme circumstances and anxiety.
Whether it's Langston or someone else, it's best to involve someone with a greater scope of understanding dog behaviors.
"Since this is something that only happens once a year, your goal is not to fix the behavior, but to help the dog cope with the experience as best you can," Langston said. "If you want to fix this, we need to start weeks or even months in advance to reduce the association the dog experiences during the fireworks."
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