Things that Go Boom! (Helping Your Dog Cope with Fireworks)


July 4th—the day many a dog has been dreading all year long. Even before the 4th, Nantucket revelers are lighting off fireworks (illegally) at beach parties or in their own back yards. And your dog is not happy. And he or she may run. In fact, nationwide, more dogs run off on the fourth of July and end up in “the pound” than on any other day.

Unlike thunderstorms, there are no warning signs for fireworks—no pick up in the wind or drop in barometric pressure, so the sudden crack of a firework catches dogs off guard. In addition, a dog’s hearing is much more acute than ours. So what to us is perceived as an (admittedly loud) boom, to them sounds terrifying. And they run—it’s instinctual.

You can help your dog get through this night relatively unscathed.

If you have a few months of prep time, you can try desensitization—play recordings of fireworks at different times of day. Do it completely randomly and go about your business. This will help your dog learn that nothing bad happens and that it’s just part of an average day.

If the Fourth is already upon you, try some (or all) of the following methods to support the shaking, drooling, panting, whining mess that your dog becomes before she heads straight into the shower stall to hide:

  • First and foremost, be sure your dog is good and tired out. A long LEASHED walk will tucker him out and calm him down. If you are going to go leashless, go in the early morning, when no one will yet be thinking of blasting off random practice fireworks.
  • As afternoon approaches, bring your dog inside. Dogs in yards with electric fences can still bolt. And dogs can dig under or scale over a fence with enough motivation or terror. The safest place is going to be inside your house.
  • Put a collar on your dog with tags that include your current home and cell phone numbers and address. If you are away and you have a petsitter, you should put the sitter’s phone number somewhere on the collar. If the dog ends up at the shelter and they try to call you, and you are in timbuktu, they won’t be able to reach you and Fido is in jail for the night, now terrified not only of the fireworks, but of lock up, too.
  • Create a safe haven for your dog—in his favorite room with you or in a crate with the best chew toy he has, if he is crate-trained (don’t, however, use the 4th of July as the night to START crate-training your dog).
  • Dog massage or Tellington Touch (http://www.ttouch.com) are tactile options to help calm your dog and have the added benefit of quality one-on-one time with your pooch.
  • If you are out of the house for the night, put her in a room that she can’t get out of and be sure all of your exit doors are securely closed.
  • If you are at home, remain calm. Act as if nothing is wrong, and don’t coddle your dog— that just proves to him something is indeed wrong! (If you are stressed, your dog is stressed.)
  • Distract with games and favorite toys. This is a great time to try search games within the house—hide a few really good, stinky treats under things and then let your dog go in search.
  • Turn on a white noise machine, TV or radio, or play one of the “Through a Dog’s Ear” CDs, which are compilations of soothing sounds geared to the canine ear (available on iTunes).
  • Try a thundershirt—a kind of shirt that tightly swaddles your dog. Thundershirts need to be “practiced” weeks or months pre-thunder/fireworks. Otherwise, your dog will start to associate the shirt with the loud scary noises and become afraid of the shirt itself.
  • Try a calming spray or collar (there are several on the market) or a little Rescue Remedy (just 2 drops) in your dog’s water the day of the fireworks. Melatonin can also be used—Annye’s probably has it.
  • For the worst cases, your vet can prescribe a sedative that you give a little before the fireworks start. However, if you give your dog Acepromazine, you may want to read this article.

If the worst happens and your dog does dash off during the fireworks, call the Animal Control Officer (508-228-1212). Then call Nantucket Safe Harbor for Animals (508-825-2287). All stray dogs found by the Animal Control Officer are brought to the shelter at 11 Crooked Lane, side door.

And then read this info on what to do if you are missing a pet.

With enough planning ahead, you and your furry friends can get through this day (and summer). “Hear” it from you dog’s ears, take necessary precautions, and let the booming begin!