KEEPING YOUR DOG SAFE DURING FIREWORKS AND THUNDERSTORMS
Did you know that more dogs run away on the Fourth of July than any other day of the year? Fireworks, thunderstorms, and other loud explosive noises are terrifying to many dogs. About ten years ago, I had a golden Lab named Nikki. She was a great, easy-going dog most of the time. We had no clue she was terrified of fireworks.
The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday. I love fireworks, summertime, picnics, and barbecues. I decided with my family to see fireworks out on the Arkansas river from our fishing boat to celebrate the holiday. We loved taking Nikki with us on the boat, and she always enjoyed a nice boat trip. She had been fine during storms and lightning. We spent the day fishing and swimming. It was perfect until the sun went down and the fireworks started. My poor, normally calm dog was panicked. She desperately wanted to escape the boat and the exploding fiery sky. She tried to crawl into any hiding space that she could find. She tried to create hiding spaces. She was panting heavily and trembling. We had made a huge mistake subjecting her to fireworks. We had no idea that she would react so badly. We should have thought it through better — but we didn’t. She was fine around shooting, thunder, and lightning, so we thought it would be okay. We were wrong. If we had not been on a boat, she would have bolted. I hated seeing her so frantic while knowing that it was completely my fault and could have been easily prevented. I should have left her at home where no fireworks were going off in our neighborhood. Or, better yet, stay home and make sure she would be ok. Don’t assume your dog is ok with untested stressors. Better safe than sorry.
I have a border collie now named Betty that I know is afraid of thunderstorms. I rescued her when I lived in Arkansas where there are frequent storms. She trembles and hides under the bed or in her covered crate until the storm has passed. Her fear is not nearly to the same level of panic that Nikki had during fireworks. Still, this is not a dog that I would take out in public on the Fourth of July. We don’t even take walks during thunder. We wait until it passes to go for potty breaks. I would never leave her in the backyard during a storm even if she had shelter. I would not trust her to stay in the yard. She is just too afraid.
Because fear of fireworks and thunder is common among dogs, I would not recommend taking any dog out to enjoy fireworks. As much as we may love fireworks, we have learned to love them. Fiery explosions in the sky are what dogs see. It is unreasonable and unfair to your poor dog to think they will share your love of fireworks. I learned this the hard way. Don’t be like me.
Some dogs can be quite destructive when fear turns into panic. Betty gets crated if we are having a storm or she often goes to hide in the bathroom which is in the center of our home and has no windows. Another favorite spot for her to shelter in place in under the bed. These are her favorite chilling out places. If my neighbors decide to set off fireworks, I let her hide and don’t bother her
Signs that your dog is afraid of thunder or fireworks can include pacing, hiding, trembling and shaking, panting, big wide eyes, and whimpering or whining.
For some dogs, letting them hide and wait it out is not enough. There are several other things you do to try to help calm dogs that are extremely fearful during storms and fireworks and to keep them safe:
Crate train your pet. A crate can be calming to a dog that is already accustomed to being in a crate. It can also prevent your pet from running away or becoming destructive. This is especially helpful if you cannot stay at home with your pet when you have to go to work or be away. Try to come home to check on them during the day as often as possible if you can’t stay home with them. Being alone is just scarier for them.
Give your dog a distraction. Puzzles, games, Kongs, or chews give the dog something to do other than focus on the noises outside. But don’t be surprised if they are not interested in being distracted. If their fear is severe, they may not want to play. It helps some dogs, though, so it is worth trying.
Thunder-shirts are designed to help calm dogs in the same way that swaddling comforts babies. Many of my customers have used these very successfully.
Calming collars are infused with naturally calming smells like lavender or Adaptil.
Use white noise. Turning the television or music on low helps drown out some of the scary noises.
Placing the dog in a quiet room or allowing them to hide in their favorite hiding spot. Most dogs have one — under the bed, in a closet, under a table.
Make sure your pet has a collar with your current information should they become lost. Make sure they always wear a tag on their collar with your current phone number on it. If you are afraid of them catching the collar on something and choking, they make breakaway collars now that will unclasp if they get hung up on a bush. You can also have your phone number printed right on the collar if you don’t like the jingly noise of a tag.
Microchip your pets. If they lose their collar -or someone takes it off, a vet or shelter can still determine how to get your pet back to you. Make sure that your microchip info is up to date. If your pet is already microchipped, have your vet check by scanning your pet during your regular exams to be certain that the chip has not migrated out of your pet. This can happen! My Betty was micro-chipped by the rescue group before I got her. When I took her for her first vet visit, the vet could not locate the chip, so we chipped her again. The vet explained that sometimes the chips do work their way out of pets.
Stay home with your pet during storms or fireworks if at all possible. Being able to check in on them, at the least, is a good idea to make sure they aren’t going crazy while you are away. I am in quite a few pet groups, and, believe me, dogs can tear a place apart if they get scared enough. You have probably seen the pictures on social media too of a scared dog standing next to a couch that has been chewed to bits.
Behavioral modification training can also be beneficial to help desensitize your pet to the sounds. This takes time and can’t be done in a single sitting but practicing to desensitize them to loud noises is a worthy goal.
Never punish them or yell at them for being scared. If you can get them to play during the storm, this is great and will help desensitize them to the sound.
Visit your veterinarian if these tips don’t help or if your dog’s anxiety is severe. Medication is available and can also help.