Celebrating independence means re-enacting the sounds of bombs bursting in air. If fireworks aren’t your thing, then maybe your neighbors or local recreational agency are giving truth through the night that our flag is still there. And not just on the fourth, but a couple of days before it, and the next few days after it. If you know fireworks are happening, you understand to anticipate a shock wave that you can feel, even from a safe distance. If you’re a dog, however…you only know that the sky is probably falling, and that you need to get as far away from that sound as quickly as possible.
YOUR DOG’S WORLD IS ENDING
Fireworks are not a natural occurrence in nature. Sure, thunder and lightning offer similar stimulus, but our dogs innately know what storms are; they’ve survived them for generations and have evolved to be ok with them. On the other hand, the whistles and blasts from fireworks offer a different frequency wave and negative pressure that dogs inherently aren’t ok with. Depending on how sensitive your dog is to this anxiety-inducing noise and feeling, he or she is going to activate their flight response (as opposed to trying to fight the existential threat coming from the sky). For this reason, more pets go missing on the fourth of July than any other time of the year. Even the most obedient, stable, off-leash dogs can behave totally opposite once explosive booms are in the equation. Its nothing against you, but they want to run away from the death from above.
WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT
Maybe you already know that your dog is reactive to fireworks, or that he doesn’t care at all. In either case, it is best to be prepared for the worst.
- Make sure your tags are up to date AND USE THEM. If there was ever a time to have your dog wear a collar with tags all the time, this is it. Whether you’re home or away, this is a good last defense to rely on. Even if your dog is microchipped, this makes it easier for someone to spot them and hopefully say “hey, that dog is someone’s pet,” instead of disregarding it as a stray. Make sure your address and phone number are current.
- Stay at home with your dog. If your dog is reactive to blasts, they’re going to do things they wouldn’t normally do, maybe even to the point of hurting themselves to get away. You need to be there to make sure they aren’t trying to break through windows or getting into fights with their crate. Dogs who wouldn’t normally hop fences will find an extra few feet to their jumping abilities if they think it means survival.
- Let your dog react. If your dog starts getting anxious and barks or whines, let him! He doesn’t need the added anxiety from your sudden change of energy towards him. Be the calm example of tranquility that your dog needs. If he wants to hide somewhere, let him! If he normally feels safe in his crate, crate him! Overall, let your dog exhibit safe signs of anxiety INSIDE, because once he’s outside, he is going to act differently (see number two).
- Anticipate the anxiety. If you know when fireworks are going to start, you can play with your dog or take him on a walk to get some energy out. This will generally make dogs less reactive to stressors and stimulus like fireworks. You can double-up on that effort afterwards, with white noise like a loud fan, or even some soothing music designed for this purpose. Because of the security associated with dens, there is also a lot of comfort from the slight compression provided by shirts or pajamas. When I put these on my anxious dog, he normally falls asleep in minutes. This is a sort of security blanket that tells the nervous system to calm down and that everything is ok.
Overall, the main advice here is to be there for your dog and to take some precautionary steps to prevent our worst nightmare from coming true. Now that you are armed with this information, you might see other people’s pets roaming around your neighborhood trying to get away from certain destruction. Keep an eye out for them and understand that none of this makes sense to them.