Take the Fear Out of 4th of July Fireworks This Year: Desensitizing Your Pets
We’re officially two months away from Independence Day, which can be quite a jarring time for our furry friends. Those loud bangs and bright lights are startling, making July 5th the busiest time of the year for local animal shelters. Thankfully, if you start taking steps now, you can make certain that your pets are prepared for the holiday.
Why Does This Happen?
Just like humans, dogs have a fight-or-flight response. However, unlike you and I, they don’t quite understand why these noises are occurring. Unfortunately, this perception of a threat can lead to erratic behaviors and even injuries.
Jolynn Payne, owner and trainer at Rocking Paw Dog Training (CPDT-KA, AASC), says that on holidays like the 4th of July “you might see your dog trying to jump through a glass window or screen to get back in the house or even jumping over the fence, which in a state of flight can cause them to dash into traffic.”
“These instances of self-harm are caused by the sympathetic nervous system creating feelings of stress or fear,” which can engage an acute stress response.
This is why she highly recommends working with your animals in advance to help desensitize them to the sound and lessen their anxiety. This can take a few weeks to be effective, so it’s best to start now before the holiday sneaks up on us.
How to Train Your Dog to NOT React to Fireworks
First and foremost, find a soundtrack of firework noises. There are a handful of apps that you can download or you can pull up videos on YouTube. Second, conduct this activity in the room that your pet(s) reside in the most. This familiar environment can help to make them feel more secure throughout the exercise.
Next, start low and slow. Keep the volume at the lowest setting. “The goal is that your dog who is ‘sensitized’ to the sound gets used to being around it because the sound is delivered at a very low volume, thus, desensitizing the sound as it gets louder. Then, when the event happens in real time, your dog will then be comfortable because the sound is ‘frequent’ and they are used to hearing it,” Payne says.
As your pet becomes comfortable with the sounds, slowly increase the volume. Remember that you’re starting on this project now, so don’t rush the process. Payne stresses that “if you see stress signals such as panting (when it’s not hot), avoiding the electronic device that is producing the sound, startling or becoming more nervous in the room, then decrease the sound and go slower.”
Other Important Steps to Take
If you don’t see any progress over the next few weeks, speak with your veterinarian about potential medications that can help alleviate these extreme fears. Moreover, don’t forget that fireworks sales start as early as June 24th. This means that as the holiday approaches, make a point to keep a closer eye on your pets, especially during the hours when people are more likely to be setting off these pyrotechnics.
Finally, make sure that your pets have updated tags and microchips. On the off chance your pet(s) get out, you want to ensure that they find their way back home safely.