Trainer’s Corner: Navigating the Fourth of July with Your Dog

Keeping your pet safe and calm during America's Birthday

July 4 may be a favorite American holiday for us, but it is probably our dog’s least favorite holiday. Fireworks can be downright terrifying for a dog. Below are some tips to plan ahead to minimize stress and increase safety for your dog this July 4.

If your dog can become overly bitey/jumpy/barky or exhibits distance-increasing behaviors when around groups of people, you are better off leaving him at home. That is not the time to be working on social skills. Let your dog relax in his safe environment so that you can enjoy yourself with friends.

When spending outdoor time with your dog during the day, always remember to be careful of your dog overheating. Find shady places, bring plenty of water, and minimize time spent on surfaces that absorb heat. If your dog enjoys water, there are lots of fun activities you can play in your backyard. 

When entertaining families, it is important to actively supervise children and redirect them when necessary. Hugging, kissing, straddling, poking, pulling on body parts (like a tail), and chasing should be prevented. (I offer a kid’s dog training class where I teach students about appropriate interactions with their dog.) If your dog has been known to do unwanted behavior around guests, some suggested things you may want to consider are: planning ahead to teach him/her alternative behaviors, making sure he/she has high-value enrichment activity toys, and/or giving him more exercise before your guests arrive.

This is a good time to double-check that your dog has proper identification in case there is an unplanned escape outside a door. Still, make sure to secure your door including a doggy door or screen windows if you have them.

Preparing for Fireworks

Provide your dog with plenty of mental and physical exercise before the fireworks begin as a tired dog will be less apt to react.

Know that many dogs are afraid of the loud, sudden noise of fireworks and they may also be sensitive to the vibration caused by the noise. You may see your dog shiver, pant, pace, hide, or do destructive behavior. He/she may turn away from food. He could even try to escape out of your home or your yard which is why making sure your house is securely closed is so important.

Make sure that your dog has a safe place that is away from outside walls and windows where the noise is most likely to be heard. If you are leaving your house, make sure your dog can get to that safe place.

If you are at home during the fireworks, spend time with him in a safe place and provide your dog with comfort if your dog seeks you out. You will not be reinforcing fear, and so long as you remain calm, your presence can help your dog cope. Not all dogs are comforted by you holding or touching them. Know your dog and what helps your dog.

If your dog is not too anxious (signs of high anxiety include change in breathing/heart rate, pacing or trying to escape, shivering, huddling low in one place, inability to settle, barking, even self-mutilation), you may be able to do some counter-conditioning where you give your dog a piece of high-value food (like meat or chicken) immediately after a boom.

Sometimes wearing a Thundershirt or DAP collar can help; however, not with every dog. If you are going to try this, try it on BEFORE the fireworks. If your dog tries to get it off, pants more, or shows other signs of distress with clothing on, do not use the Thundershirt during the event.

Playing white noise or a television loud enough to mask the noise may help. You may want to consider lower frequency sounds to cover up the low-frequency sound of the big booms. 

If your dog has severe cases of situational phobias like fireworks, you may want to talk with your vet about fast-acting anxiolytic medication. As with any anti-anxiety medication, it is a good idea to give your dog a dose in advance of the stress event to see if your dog experiences any adverse reactions.

Editor’s Note:

More pets going missing on the Fourth of July than any other day of the year. Make sure that your household pets are microchipped and that your information with the microchip company is up-to-date. In addition to registering your information with the manufacturer of your pet’s microchip, you can also register with a couple of different free. universal microchip databases: Michaelson Found Animals Registry and PetKey are just a couple of the universal databases for microchip registration.

Fireworks are also hazardous to birds and other animals in the wild causing stress, psychological trauma, and even death, so please be considerate if you are launching your own fireworks. Also be cognizant that many people, especially veterans, suffer from PTSD than can be triggered by fireworks.

Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KA, CPBC, is a certified dog trainer through the internationally recognized Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers; and, is a certified Fear Free Dog Training Professional. She is also a certified parrot behavior consultant. An animal lover her entire life, she began studying Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) as it relates to helping pets and their people succeed over 17 years ago; and continually takes courses from leading positive trainers and behaviorists.

Lisa offers individualized coaching on dog and puppy training, as well as one-on-one training for pets, using and teaching the most positive strategies for dog manners behaviors as well as solving and preventing pet problem behaviors. For families with children, she applies lessons from her My Dog’s Super Hero curriculum to teach how dogs communicate, and how to be a safe and positive dog teacher and friend. Additionally, she shares her knowledge through her columns in CincyPet Magazine, Living Magazines, and speaking engagements. Learn more about her, and contact her, at www.SoMuchPETential.com.

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