Every year, our shelters are overrun with dogs during the 4th of July holiday because of fireworks. Our beloved pups become terrified and flee their homes and many are picked up and brought to shelters. You will notice that shelters usually have major adoption events starting in June to make room for the influx.
So, why don’t dogs learn that these sounds won’t hurt them? This doesn’t happen for several reasons. A dog’s hearing is far more acute than ours. These sounds are much louder to them. Additionally, the booms are scary! They are supposed to mimic the sounds of war and they do that very well. Your dog has no idea what is happening but knows he should be fearful and retreat if possible. Also, the sounds are infrequent. They only happen for a week or two each year. When your dog is exposed to any scary stimulus infrequently, it only increases his terror the next time he hears it. For example, dogs who are trained to aid in war zones are first desensitized to the loud booms through special training. Now, I’m not suggesting that you lock your dog in a room alone with a skull-rattling fireworks soundtrack to desensitize him. Quite the contrary. That technique is called flooding and it will only make the situation worse. Instead, here are a few tools and techniques that you can try to help your dog manage his fear and hopefully get a bit better at dealing with America’s Independence.
1.) Thundershirts - These little wraps help some dogs to cope with loud noises by wrapping their midsection tightly. This can have a calming effect. It is not recommended that you ditch the shirt and hold your dog in a nice, tight snuggle though. In fact, the last thing you want to do is nurture your dog when he is scared by saying “It’s ok, buddy” and petting him. By doing so, you would be rewarding his current behavior of shaking or whimpering and that will lead him to get more worked up in the future. You also don’t want to scold him (I doubt many of you would even think of that but just in case…) as that will heighten his negative experience.
2.) Rescue Remedy - This is a nice calming spray that helps some dogs to relax.
3.) Pheromone plug-in room diffuser - These mimic the pheromones released by nursing mother dogs and therefore create a calming effect. Most people can’t detect much scent from these diffusers but dogs can.
4.) Slowwww desensitization - This is my favorite because it directly addresses the behavior itself. You don’t want to start this exercise right before the 4th of July. You will need a lot of repetition to do this effectively. Give yourself at least a month. Download a track or purchase a CD of recorded fireworks sounds. Play the track at the lowest volume possible while your dog is engaged in a rewarding activity such as eating dinner or playing fetch or hide-n-seek with you or working on his commands for treats. Simply it turn it on and leave it in a corner of the room and have fun with your dog. If your dog shows any sign of fear, turn it off and try again tomorrow. Once your dog has done one session at the quietest volume possible, the next day inch the volume just a tad and repeat your play or meal time. If he shows any sign of fear, return it to the lower volume where he was comfortable and keep playing/feeding. Do a little bit everyday slowly increasing the volume. Eventually, he will become accustomed to the sound.
Whatever you do, please be sure to keep your dog inside with the shades closed during the evening and when you need to take him outside for a bathroom break, please use a leash.
Best of luck to you and yours! Have a Happy 4th!