Keeping your dog calm when fireworks explode

Dogs can panic when startled by the sound of fireworks. Illustration: Getty
Dogs can panic when startled by the sound of fireworks. Illustration: Getty

For most dogs, the sound of fireworks is unsettling. For some, it induces panic.

Unless the dog has been around firearms — on hunting trips, for example — the sound is unnatural. Unlike thunder, this noise is closer to the ground and is accompanied by flashes and burning smells, all picked up by their super-sensitive noses and ears.

Here are some tips from celebrity dog behaviorist Cesar Milan on helping your pet cope with the sudden sound of fireworks.

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Accommodation

If there are no quieter alternative accommodations for your dog, then a travel kennel at home should make him feel safer. If you’re not going to be home but your dog is, have a friend or sitter there to keep your dog company.

Acclimation

Try to get your dog comfortable with the sound in advance. Ideally, you would take three or four months of playing a recorded sound of fireworks at an increasingly louder volume before he eats, before a walk, and before affection and play. This will condition him by association to hear the sound and interpret it as something good.

Sedation

Shortly before the fireworks start, take her on a very long walk to tire her out and put her in a calm state. If you find it necessary to use medication or a thundershirt to calm your dog during fireworks, remember that you must introduce any such tool at the right time. This means that you must bring your dog to that calm state first, then introduce the tool — before the fireworks and the anxiety begin. If she is already at a high anxiety level, then her mental state will overrule the medication. If she is already breathing heavily, then the thundershirt, which is designed to slow her breathing, won’t work.

Communication

While humans communicate with words, dogs communicate with energy, and will look to their pack leader — you — for clues on how they should behave. (And if you’ve watched Milan on television, you should know his theory on who’s the pack leader in an owner-pet relationship.) If you’re not making a big deal or showing excitement about the fireworks, then he will learn to be less concerned as well.

Safety

Dogs can bolt when they panic. It’s part of the survival instinct that has kept them alive for thousands of years. So make sure your pet is wearing proper identification if your dog manages to escape.

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