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— July 2, 2013 —

Boom, Boom, Boom July 4th is coming.
Is your dog afraid of fireworks?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Every year about this time, thousands of dogs are terrified by the sound of fireworks. I’ve had a few questions about this and I’d like to answer them and give a couple of tips for the 4th of July celebrations.

Fireworks, thunder and noise phobia in general are unfortunately all too common. Oddly, I have met dogs that were specifically fearful of only one or the other. Usually it’s all or nothing.

Noise phobia can be a very serious issue. Dogs may hide, engage in destructive behavior or injure themselves. I have heard of dogs with noise phobia doing nothing more than panting and pacing. I have also heard of them breaking out of the house and trying to run from the storm.

In May 2012, we featured an article by Patience Hayes re. thunder phobia. I’d recommend reading that if you get a chance. She discusses how to NOT reinforce your dog’s fears and gives some tips on how to distract him with training or tricks.

This is all good information. I have a few other ideas that I’d like to add. The main idea is that you can’t just work on this during the fireworks. There are great ways to train for the noise before it’s overwhelming.

The best way, of course it to socialize your dog as a puppy to the loud noises of thunder and fireworks. When you know a situation is about to bring loud noises, bring your pup out for a great game of whatever he likes the most. Running after a favorite toy, doing sit and down for treats and so on can distract your puppy so the fireworks become part of the background noise.

If you adopted your dog as an adult and missed out on the early socialization period, there are still things you can do to help your dog.

There are recordings of fireworks available online and you can play these sounds, low at first then raise the volume. While you are doing this, distract your dog with training exercises. If your dog likes to play tug, this can be an effective way to distract him from the sound. (I know there are old theories about never playing tug with your dog. I consider this outdated information. I will discuss this at a later date.) As he gets more into the tug, you can raise the volume. If you see any signs of fear, flinching, panting, refusing to engage you, turn the volume down. You want to work at the highest volume your dog can ignore.

Another remedy is melatonin. If your dog if very fearful, melatonin is an all natural substance sold as a supplement over the counter. For a medium size dog, 3–6 mg is an appropriate dose. Some people swear by it.

When it comes to noise phobia, a combination of these techniques may be needed to help your dog resolve his fear. The last thing you want to do is try to calm your dog by petting. This will do one of two things. It will at best make you the security blanket your dog needs during the storm. When you aren’t home, your dog will still experience the fear. At worse it will intensify the fear making your dog more likely to panic or engage in self destructive behavior.

NOTE: Even if your dog is very well trained, please make sure to leash your dogs during this period. Years ago, we had a neighbor who had a 14 year old dog who was never on a leash. The dog never left her owner’s side and seemed to be very well trained. One night someone threw fireworks too close to her and she spooked into oncoming traffic. It was a very sad way for someone to loose a dog.