Rain, Storms, and Fireworks, Oh My!!!

Dog looking through window blinds - Dogs and FireworksBy Michele L. Meyer     

Did you know more pets end up in shelters around July 4th than any other time of the year?  Fireworks are extremely scary to many, many dogs and can cause them to escape from their homes, yards, and leashes in ways that seem impossible.  They just keep running, trying to get away from the noise and lights and can get hit by a car, attacked by wildlife, or end up very far from their home…disoriented, confused, and exhausted.   

Please read our safety tips that can SAVE YOUR DOG’S LIFE and our tips to reduce your dog’s stress and help them overcome their fear.  If your town is like mine…the fireworks start weeks before July 4th and can continue for weeks after.  So please follow these tips from about mid-June to mid-July because all it takes is that one stray firework to scare your dog into escaping and running away.

Please follow these safety tips during firework seasons:

  • NEVER bring your dogs to an event that will be displaying fireworks. This would be an extremely scary event for dogs and the loud noise could trigger them to pull free from the leash and run away.
  • Be sure to keep your dogs safely confined in your home while fireworks are being set off. Do not let them roam free in your yard, even if it is fully fenced. Many dogs break out of their fenced yards in panic when fireworks are set off and then continue to run in fear of the loud noise.
  • Since there are always those stray fireworks long before or long after July 4th…please make sure all areas of your fence are secured so that your dog can not get under, over, or through.  BE OVERLY CAUTIOUS WITH THIS…you would  be surprised on the height your dog could scale or jump when they are afraid…or how small of a gap they can squeeze through.  They can easily dig their way under a fence that is not secured flush with the ground, but preferably into the ground.
  • Walk your dogs in the morning before afternoon heat and long before late afternoon/early evening when the likelihood of fireworks is higher. 
  •  Again, you would probably be surprised on what your dog can escape out of when afraid so make sure your dog’s harness and collar is fitted properly.  You should not be able to fit more than two fingers FLAT in between your dog’s neck and collar.
  • Make sure the information on your dog’s tags are up to date and keep your dog’s collar and tags on at all times other than when he is crated.  Fill up both sides of the tag with your information including address and multiple phone numbers.
  • MICROCHIP YOUR DOG and REGISTER IT and then keep the information up to date!  If you have moved or changed phone numbers, you need to contact the company to update your information.  The microchip does not do any good if the shelter or vet that has your dog can not locate you.  If you are not sure who to contact, ask your dog’s veterinarian to scan the chip to get you the company’s information.
    • Micro-chipping is a very easy and inexpensive procedure and helps to ensure someone can locate you if they find your dog since your dog could break or slip out of his collar.

Is your dog afraid of storms or fireworks?   

  • Many dogs feel relief by having an area in the house to go to where the noise and light exposure from the fireworks is less. So keep the shades closed and the lights on and try turning on a radio, television, and/or an exhaust fan to help drown out some of the noise.
  • Many of our clients have seen stress reduction in their dogs with use of a pressure wrap such as a Thundershirt and/or a  DAP spray/diffuser.  Begin using the pheromone a couple weeks ahead of time.  When using a pressure wrap, it should be put on your dog 15 minutes before the situation (e.g. storms or fireworks) and keep your dog calm for those 15 minutes.  It’s important to also put the pressure wrap on your dog plenty of other “non-situational” times too so that he does not associate the wrap with something scary happening.  For those times, just leave the wrap on for 20-30 minutes at a time.  
  • You CAN comfort your dog. This will not reinforce the fear. It is however best not to “baby” your dog. Try sitting down next to your dog and slowly and calmly petting him. Try not talking to your dog unless you find it helps him to calm down. If you do talk to your dog, do so in a calm and soothing voice.

Did you know there is training that can be done to help dogs overcome these fears and anxieties?

You could first try getting a video or audio recording of storms or fireworks and play it at a very low volume at which your dog is NOT nervous. After five minutes or so, turn it up very gradually. Turn it back down if your dog starts to act nervous and then play it at a lower volume for a while longer before trying to turn it back up again. Continue doing this until you can play the sounds at a loud volume without your dog being nervous.  This training approach is called desensitizing and for some dogs this is enough, but not for all.  

You could also try teaching your dog that these events mean something fun is going to happen…but be careful with this approach.  If your dog does not respond right away, it’s best to seek expert help before proceeding because your dog could become afraid of the “fun thing” (e.g. treats, toys, games, etc) because he thinks the “fun thing” means the scary thing is going to happen.  For fun things to do with your dog inside, check out our article with inside dog games and for lots more ways to exercise your dog indoors…check out our Fun Fit Fido training program.

Fear usually gets worse overtime if not addressed. Please contact us if you would like to set up training to help your dogs overcome their fear of fireworks, storms, or other stressful situations.

When Medication is Needed

For many dogs, a combination of the tips mentioned above are needed to help them overcome their fears.  For some dogs, medication may be needed temporarily to aid in the training program…and in more severe cases, medication may be needed indefinitely.  Please talk with your veterinarian if you feel your dog needs medication but beware of the problems with acepromazine!  This is a drug that is widely prescribed for noise phobias but can make things much worse for our dogs according to Dr. Marty Becker and one of the world’s leading veterinary behaviorists, Karen L. Overall, MA, VMD, PhD, DACVB, CAAB… as discussed in the article “Don’t ‘Ace’ the Fear: Why acepromazine may make your dog’s fireworks fear worse.”