Yesterday I wrote about what to do if your dog is scared of fireworks. Thank you for your additional tips. Today, I want to share ideas for how to prepare a dog for upcoming fireworks. You know, like, the Fourth of July! If you know your dog is scared of fireworks, what should you be doing now to prepare her?
As always, please share your own tips and experiences. What works for one dog will not work for every dog, so it’s nice to hear a variety of options.
How to prepare a dog that’s scared of fireworks
These tips are for what you can do to prepare your indoor dog for upcoming fireworks. Check out my previous post for how to help a dog that is scared of fireworks as the fireworks are going off.
Buy a Thundershirt.
A Thundershirt (sometimes called the Thunder coat) is not a quick fix by any means for a dog afraid of fireworks. The product is basically a body wrap designed to “swaddle” the dog. This slight pressure supposedly makes the dog feel safer and less anxious. My own dog becomes instantly calm when I put his regular winter vest on him. Some dog owners will see no results with the Thundershirt, but for $40 it’s worth a shot. Plan on using the Thundershirt in addition to other behavior-modification methods. Here are some Thundershirt reviews from my readers.
Play fireworks videos on your computer.
Yes, this sounds a little weird but it can really help with desensitizing your dog to the sound of fireworks. Start with the volume pretty low and find the point where your dog becomes nervous, if she becomes nervous at all. Play the video several times per day for just a minute or two at a sound level that does not seem to affect your dog.
Toss her treats as the “fireworks” are going off or work on some obedience training or tug-of-war games while the “fireworks” are in the background. Your treats should be something highly valued like pieces of hot dogs or chicken. If your dog seemed OK, then play the video slightly louder the next time while continuing to drop awesome treats.
You’ll want to progress very slowly over several days or weeks. Do not rush this process. Be careful not to trigger your dog’s anxiety but to keep working within her threshold. With time, you may be able to change her internal response so she thinks fireworks equal hot dogs! Now that’s something to celebrate!
Provide your dog with tons of exercise.
Leading up to the Fourth of July (or whatever event includes fireworks), provide your dog with more exercise than usual. Exercise alone will not be a solution to your dog’s anxiety, but the less energy she has, the better. Take her for a long walk every single day. Get a doggy backpack so she burns even more energy on walks.
Play some serious tug of war to drain her emotional energy (anxious dogs usually have lots!), and work on some obedience training to burn her mental energy. Don’t underestimate the importance of physical, emotional and mental exercise.
Continue your dog’s kennel training – keep it positive!
If you confine your dog to a kennel (crate) only during fireworks, she’s going to start associating her kennel with the fireworks. You don’t want your dog to feel anxious every time she’s in her kennel. Instead, condition her mind to automatically relax in the kennel. To do this, you should work on kennel training throughout the year, not just while fireworks are going off. Give your dog at least a half-hour of positive, relaxing time in her kennel every single day.
Make the kennel the best place on earth for your dog! Keep it stocked with ultimate treats like real liver or Kongs with peanut butter. Feeding her in her kennel is also a good option, but be careful not to create extra excitement. You want your dog to be in a calm state of mind in her kennel.
If your dog is scared of fireworks, put her in her kennel at least 20 minutes before they start going off, if possible. If your dog is in her kennel and calm before the fireworks start, she’ll have an easier time remaining calm. I do realize in some areas people set off fireworks randomly all summer so it’s hard to always predict them. Remember to give your dog some really awesome treats every time she’s kenneled to associate the kennel as a positive place. I’m talking about ham, meatballs, cheese, etc.
Work on your dog’s overall obedience skills.
A dog with a high level of obedience is naturally going to have more self-control while under stress. Don’t under estimate this. Your dog should respond to sit, down, stay, heel and come 99 percent of the time, even with distractions. It takes a lot of focus for a dog to be able to lie down and stay for 10 minutes while at a park, for example.
It takes a lot of focus and self-control to heel through a busy downtown setting with other dogs around. These skills will only help your dog remain mentally stable when stressful situations occur in “real life.”
Desensitize your dog to loud noises throughout the year.
This is similar to the fireworks video example above. I’m not saying you should seek out situations that will scare your dog, but you want to slowly expose your dog to more and more noises and situations over time. For example, walk your dog near trains, noisy trucks, boats, snowmobiles, motorcycles, parades, kids, sporting events, marathons, 5K events and so on.
In one of Ace’s obedience classes, the instructor would randomly drop objects like a textbook, a chair or a can of coins. This was to help our dogs adjust to normal noises that could occur in real life. We were taught to act normal and not to make a big deal out of the sounds. Most dogs could’ve cared less.
Dog appeasing pheromones.
A dog appeasing pheromone diffuser supposedly releases dog appeasing pheromones that may calm dogs and reduce their anxiety. You would plug it into an outlet near your dog’s kennel. I’m not sure if these actually work or if they’re mostly a scam, but for around $50 it might be worth a shot. I have no experience with these products, but I’ve heard positive and negative reviews from others.
Bach Rescue Remedy is a product marketed as a natural stress reliever made from flower material and available for humans and pets. You put a few drops on the pet’s food or in the pet’s water, and it supposedly helps eliminate stress. I purchased the product while trying to prevent separation anxiety in dogs. It did not do a damn thing for them (maybe I should’ve used it on myself !). I also gave Rescue Remedy to my dog while traveling, and it did not calm him a bit. Others swear by it though, so it might be worth a shot for $10 on Amazon.
Anti-anxiety medication for a dog that’s scared of fireworks.
I’m not a fan of giving dogs medication for fear issues, but sometimes it is the best option. If your dog injures herself during fireworks or destroys your property, for example, then medication might be the best idea temporarily. This is especially true if you know there will be fireworks when your dog is home alone or if you live in an apartment setting and are facing eviction due to your dog’s behavior.
Keep your dog’s collar and ID tags on.
You just never know when a fearful dog could slip out the door or out of the yard. It’s a good idea to microchip your dog and make sure the info on her tags and microchip is registered and up to date.
Keep your cats safe, too!
Your cat might also be scared of fireworks. Make sure she has a safe place to hide. It’s a good idea for her to have her collar and ID tags on and to stay inside on the Fourth of July, even if she’s normally outside. Scared cats might get spooked and do things they normally wouldn’t do like bolt in front of a car. Create some white noise for your cat like soothing music, a loud fan or air conditioning.
Realize your dog might always be scared of fireworks.
We all have fears. I’m scared of birds (seriously). I’m scared of speaking in front of a group. I’m scared of heights. I can work hard to overcome these fears, but I know I’m always going to experience some amount of fear around them. Don’t place unrealistic expectations on your dog. Try to help her, but don’t expect to completely eliminate her fear. This will only make you feel like a failure.