How to calm those fearful pups! (Fireworks Edition)
Updated: Aug 1
We're about to head into the double whammy of holidays for fearful pups: Memorial Day and Fourth of July. For those of us living in Philly, we know that Philly loves fireworks. The explosive celebrations can start days before, and last for days after the holiday. The nights can be challenging if you have a fireworks-fearful pup.
Thankfully there are easy things you can do as a dog owner to make the nights more manageable for them. (And don't worry - comforting a fearful dog will not "reinforce bad behavior." Forget that nonsense!)
Make a safe space for your pup away from the noise and commotion. Perhaps it's a bedroom with a sound machine or a radio. Dogs tend to prefer small enclosed spaces when frightened. (This isn't always the case, but you know your pup best!) Close the curtains to block visual stimulation too and hunker down for the night. (If possible, stay home with your pup. Your presence will make it just a bit easier.)
They won't just "get over it"
Do not think that "exposure" will "cure" your dog of the fear. It will likely make it worse. Don't take your dog outside during the jubilation. If you can, stay home with your pup offering reassuring support and comfort. Repeated exposure to a frightening trigger can actually cause MORE anxiety in the future if it is not paired with something awesome. There are ways to thoughtfully condition pups to be less fearful, but simply exposing them to it could backfire. (Hint: Call a certified trainer.)
ID Tags should be worn 24/7
Always, always, always have your pup wearing ID tags (this goes for every day of the year.) Tags are your dog's direct ticket home. We also recommend microchips, but chips sometimes fail and not everyone knows to head to the vet or shelter to have a found pup scanned for a microchip. Dogs often to BOLT when frightened and parties and BBQs make a quick escape for panicked dogs easier and more likely. In fact, more dogs go missing on holidays than any other day of the year! Make sure your dog is tagged just in case.
Loop in your Vet
If your dog gets to a state of panic repeatedly on holidays, talk to your vet about options. There is everything from pheromone plug-ins to short-term medications to take the edge off.
Prep and plan
If you know it's going to be loud at night, do something really fun during the day to work out some excess energy. A tired dog is a happy dog! Go for a hike, go for a long urban adventure, hit up a dog park, etc. You can also experiment with frozen treats to keep pups occupied and happy (plan ahead.) A frozen Kong filled with peanut butter, smashed pumpkin, kibble, treats, cream cheese, etc. can go a LONG way at distracting a fearful pup.
Your dog may always be fearful of fireworks. And when you think about it, it's a fairly rational fear! As a dog owner, you can really help alleviate the worst of the anxiety. And if it gets severe, hit up a professional trainer or your trusted veterinarian.