The 4th of July is a fun time to celebrate our freedom with friends and family while enjoying outdoor activities at picnics and festivals. One of the most anticipated events on the 4th of July is the evening festivities ending in an array of booming fireworks. Many of us love to include our pets in fun family activities because after all, they are an important part of the family! But before you bring your dog (or cat) along on your 4th of July plans, please consider the following.
Just Remember, It’s not fun for everyone.
4th of July is the #1 day of the year when dogs and cats go missing
From your dog and cat’s point of view, fireworks are extremely scary. Unusually loud, sudden noises can frighten even the bravest dog or cat into a panic. Shelters are overloaded the day following the 4th of July with dogs and cats that try to flee from what they perceive as a life-threatening situation. Shelters have their highest number of intakes on July 5th for both dogs and cats. So, what can you do to help your dog or cat feel safe and protected during one of the scariest days of the year?
How to help your dog or cat feel safe and secure
- Exercise your dog or cat during the day to help tire it out. Provide it with plenty of mental stimulation and play prior to leaving for the festivities so that it will be happy to chill out later when the noise starts happening and it’s left alone to fend for itself.
- Leave your dog or cat at home in a safe and protected environment, ensuring there is nothing it could hurt itself on in a state of panic, such as glass windows, as even the flashes of light from fireworks can scare a dog or cat. Keep windows covered and darkened, even if only temporarily. An internal room with no windows or a basement is a good option to keep them in, but not if it’s the first time you leave them there as that will be unusual in itself. Put on soothing music or sounds as background noise to help drown out the booming fireworks noise. Dogs and cats have a hearing capacity that is much more sensitive than humans, so you can imagine how frightening the loud noise of fireworks can be to them.
- If you are staying home with your dog or cat, entertain it with its favorite chew bone or special toys and treats when the fireworks start. This is a process called Counterconditioning – associating something really positive with something your dog or cat is really concerned about. Use an extra special treat for this occasion only, and don’t ask for any particular behavior when the noise starts, just give it the special treats while the scary noises are happening. Here’s a great article about counterconditioning and desensitization.
- Act normal yourself. Your dog or cat will look to you for guidance when frightening noises occur, so any unusual behavior you display will alert it that something is out of the ordinary. Be calm and quiet, assuring it that everything is okay – but don’t overdo your reassurance if that is not how you ordinarily act, as excessive and unusual coddling can also set some dogs or cats into a panic.
Get medical help for your dog or cat if necessary
If your dog or cat has noise phobias, please talk to your veterinarian to see if it could benefit from medication on days that you know there will be fireworks in the future. If it’s too late for this holiday, do this prior to the next one so that you will be prepared in advance next time, as this problem will not go away on its own but will likely get worse. There’s no need for your pet to suffer needlessly.
Finally, please microchip your dog and cat, and use name tags on their collar to ensure that if it does somehow get lost one day, the chances of it finding its way home is greatly increased.
Make it a happy and safe 4th for you and your pets!
Wendy Taylor is a certified professional dog trainer, graduate with distinction from Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training and Behavior, and a Certified Fear Free Animal Trainer. She helps create successful relationships between dogs and their owners in the Louisville, KY area through positive reinforcement training techniques.