July 4th, Will your dog panic?
Updated: Mar 20
Independence Day is a time filled with fun and fireworks, but for many dogs this time of year can be their worst nightmare. The loud cracks and booms of fireworks can often trigger flight responses in unprepared pets. As a result, more dogs go missing during Independence Day than any other day of the year. Some will even run for miles before exhausted enough to stop. By that point they are often completely lost and unable to find their way back home. Dogs are masters of navigation, but those systems are offline during panic.
Barriers we frequently use in our home to contain dogs might be sufficient in under normal conditions. However these barriers can be easily defeated by a determined and hysterical dog. Do not trust these implements to contain your dog if he/she has an extreme firework phobia.
These traditional barriers include:
Chain link fences
Dogs can jump fences or dig under them until free. They will barge through electric fences and tolerate the correction to get away. Doors will be clawed and ripped in two. Many break their teeth in the process. Even small dogs under 15lbs can shred a door in minutes. Dogs will jump through and smash glass doors and windows (think action movie here -- but this is real). They might injure or kill themselves in the process, but glass is no obstacle for them.
(photo credit: Heather Terpening)
Wire kennels are the most easily defeated. The door can be pressed until it pops open. Or the bottom wire can be grabbed by the mouth and bent upwards creating a gap for escape. The edges of plastic kennels can be sawed through.
So what can be done? What are your options? This is not a comprehensive list, but here are a few suggestions that might help.
1. Talk to your veterinarian about prescribing some anti-anxiety medication.
2. Use masking noises in your home. Consider box fans for white noise, a loud radio, turning up the TV, etc. Look around your home and use what you have.
3. Cover windows to reduce the flash associated with fireworks. Keep your dog with you on-leash and do not allow them to run free.
4. Consider not leaving your dog alone that night. If you have to leave, perhaps allow your dog to stay with friends or family. Leave with them instructions to keep your dog supervised and on-leash at all times.
5. Consider homeopathic options: calming scents and CBD oil.
6. Purchase a durable kennel. One example of a heavy duty dog crate is here. They are not cheap, but neither are vet bills.
7. Avoid yelling at your dog if they are misbehaved during this time. Instead, simply put them on leash and give them calm structure.
Address the cause
There are effective therapies and strategies for helping dogs with noise anxiety which include:
All of a dog's behavior is part of a connected system. Behaviors that seem to having nothing in common with firework phobia can play a huge part in supporting anxiety. For instance, a dog that incessantly chases squirrels can develop problems in controlling themselves under more stressful conditions.
Dogs that have separation anxiety too are more likely to develop other phobias with fireworks. Solving one problem will often help to undermine a different problem that is seemingly unrelated.
When dogs go into a panic or have overall problems with hyper-vigilance or impulse control, this indicates that various parts of the brain are not working in harmony. The left hemisphere of the brain is not talking to the right. The decision-making prefrontal cortex is not speaking with the memory center. And, therefore, it can be extremely beneficial to work with a behaviorist who will help develop a strategy for acclimation. This will help your dog's brain to function normally while under stress, and to integrate it's various functions for self-regulation.
Exposure therapy is another extremely effective strategy that will help your dog to acclimate to loud noises. Skilled behaviorists can guide families and create an exposure therapy strategy that works in the home. It is not recommended that you try this on your own.
Contact Three Dimensional Dog at 205-563-8383 or visit www.ThreeDimensionalDog.com for information.