MADISON, WI – All Americans love the Fourth of July, right? Wrong. Most dogs -whether they’re an Irish setter, Akita, Australian shepherd, or originally from any other corner of the globe – hate being in the U.S.A. on this holiday. The sudden and somewhat random bangs and pops that fireworks produce scare them half out of their wits.
It really isn’t your dog’s fault that fireworks cause such an intense negative reaction. It very well could be inbred. The fear of loud and sudden noise is known as a “somatic” response. It’s involuntary and produces symptoms like trembling, rapid and shallow panting, excessive salivation, increased heart rate and blood pressure, and fleeing, and hiding. Even the bravest of dogs can be reduced to a quaking, whimpering mess when the Independence Day celebrations get underway.
“It’s virtually impossible to quash all of the anxiety that fireworks may ignite in your dog,” says Lis De Souza, owner of both Serenity Pet Salon & Spas in Madison. “But there are things you can do to help them cope and stay as calm as possible.”
De Souza says that feeding and walking your dog a good hour or so before the fireworks display commences is a good idea. You want to make sure the dog has peed and pooped before the fireworks are expected to start.
“You might also want to play with them before hand,” she says. “If they’re tired, they tend to care a little bit less about the chaos that fireworks create.”
De Souza says a caring pet owner will opt to stay at home with their fearful friend instead of leaving to watch the show.
“Even if your dog hides or completely ignores you, he’s still far better off knowing you’re around and available,” she says.
It may seem obvious, but she also recommends keeping your dog inside with closed windows. It’s a good idea to also shut your curtains and blinds to buffer sound and keep your dog from seeing unsettling and inexplicable flashes of light. Keeping your inside space bright and well-lit also helps absorb visual traces of fireworks. And make sure to close off any doggie doors or other exits that your dog could use to escape.
De Souza says that background noise might be helpful in curbing your dog’s anxiety. She recommends turning on a television or radio but to keep the volume at a normal – not increased – level.
“White noise from appliances like a fan, dishwasher, or the clothes washer and dryer might provide a calming effect, too,” she says.
If your dog tends to flee when anxiety strikes, make sure he or she has a cool, dark, comfortable place to hide. Small, snug spaces provide a sense of security and also muffles outside noises. Many dogs also respond well to being fitted with a body wrap or tee shirt that gives them a continuous hugging pressure. This can help lower his or her heart rate and blood pressure, thus reducing stress and anxiety.
If none of these tricks seem to alleviate your dog’s fireworks angst, you may want to consult your vet. He or she can prescribe anti-anxiety medication and/or help you find a qualified pet therapist that specializes in behavior modification.
“Come the Fourth, remember that your dog is legitimately scared,” says De Souza. “He or she will need lots of comfort and understanding. Remember that the behavior – the fear – is beyond your dog’s control. Be kind.”