by Stacy Braslau-Schneck, CPDT
Many dogs are afraid of fireworks and other loud noises. Please do not bring your dog to fireworks displays - they will not appreciate the colors, and the noise will likely scare them or at least stress them out.
If you go to see fireworks and leave your canine friend at home, make sure he is very secure. Dogs have been known to break through screens, fences, even glass windows when terrified and trying to escape the sound of fireworks. The days after the Fourth of July weekend are the busiest ones of the year for most shelters - many dogs get "lost" after running in fear from fireworks.
Plan now. Make sure your dog has tags on. Check to see that the tags are visible (sometimes the engraving gets worn off) and that your phone number is current (has your area code changed recently?). If you take your dog out of town for the weekend, get a "vacation tag". I got one for Flip that says, "I'm staying with...." and lists his host's name and phone number. Also, make sure you have current photo of your dog, and note any distinguishing marks (is that spot on his left hind foot or his right?). If you need to provide a description of your lost dog for the humane society or for posters, it's helpful to have it accurate and current.
If you're home with your dog and you hear fireworks, make sure your dog feels calm and safe. Put on music or TV to mask the noise (one student recommends watching a "war movie", since most dogs have learned to ignore the sounds from your TV and the fireworks will fit right in with the crash of the movie's bombs; another student plays mellow classical music and "reads" to her dogs instead!). Act calm or even jolly, yawn, smile, and engage your dog in some fun activity if he or she seems alarmed. Go ahead and reassure your dog by saying, "It’s Okay!", and show him or her that you are not bothered.
Long before you expect fireworks, you can prepare with desensitization and counter conditioning. You can get a recording of fireworks (see www.dogsandfireworks.com for example), and start playing it back at a VERY low volume while you engage your dogs in their favorite games or activities, and/or give them treats. If they seem completely unaffected by the sound, raise the volume a tiny bit. At no time do you want the sound loud enough to actually scare her - her acting "concerned" is OK as long as she seems to recover pretty quickly. Start by playing the sounds at a volume where Fido shows NO signs of anxiety. Play the CD while she is eating a meal, getting a relaxing massage, and also while you are practicing basic command she knows such as sit, down, and stay. Do this for several days, gradually raise the volume but turn it back down if you see any signs of anxiety.
Here's how you can help your dog deal with the stress that night:
You may wish to consider a product called "Comfort Zone with DAP", which releases a chemical which is supposed to be a dog comforting hormone. It often helps to calm stressed or exited dogs down (I have been using it with my own dog since the birth of our child disrupted our routine). See petcomfortzone.com for more information. For some "anxious dogs" it seems to really help take the edge off of their anxiety or intensity. You would want to use it for a week or two before fireworks are expected. You can read about how some trainers are reporting success with it here. In the SF Bay Area, it is available at Pet Food Express.
You might also want to give your dog some melatonin. Check with your vet, but the approximate doses are 1.5 mg for a dog under 25 lbs, 3 mg for a dog 25-100 lbs, and 6 mg for a dog over 100 lbs. Read about Helix Fairweather's experience with melatonin and fireworks here. There is also a doggy "tranquility herbal blend" from Tails By The Bay.
Finally, many dogs do very well with the Anxiety Wrap, a sort of "maintained pressure" vest that helps calm dogs down. It is available through SitStay. NEW! Also available, with a similar idea: ThunderShirts.
Remember that cooked bones are dangerous and can splinter! If you let your dog enjoy part of a summer barbeque, make sure he or she gets boneless meat or raw bones only!
Other dangers include corn cobs and wooden shish-ka-bob skewers, which can be choking hazards; and onions, alcohol, and chocolate, which can be toxic for dogs. (Please bring any excess chocolate to your favorite dog trainer for safe disposal!)