Fourth of July is a time for barbecues, beaches, parades...and fireworks exploding in the night sky. While we might enjoy this colorful spectacle, often our pets do not.
My dog Kelly sometimes hides in the closet when she hears unsettling sounds such as fireworks or strong claps of thunder. But there are ways to help your pet feel more secure when confronted with loud noises.
1. Reassure without coddling.
Certainly it's OK to reassure your dog. You might give her a massage or even a nice brushing if she finds that soothing. Just avoid the tendency to baby your fearful dog. Otherwise, she will learn to associate cringing, cowering and barking with the reward of your attention. This will only reinforce her fearful behavior.
2. Share some tunes.
Cover up the frightening noise with songs on the radio or a television program. Even a loud fan sometimes works.
3. Find a safe space.
Allow your dog to find a place where he feels secure. Open doors to bedrooms so he can slip under a bed or hide in a closet (like Kelly). Be sure he can come and go. But never shut your dog in the room or closet, or even in his crate, when he is afraid.
4. Try a training technique.
Some people help their dog overcome a fear by exposing her to the specific noise, little by little. This technique is called desensitization. You can read more about desensitization techniques on the Humane Society website.
5. Play a game.
You may be able to distract your dog with a favorite game such as fetch, or by practicing obedience commands. This way, the reward of your attention will be for obeying commands, not for acting fearful.
If the fear is extreme, or if none of these techniques work, you might consider consulting your veterinarian, who can help you decide if herbal remedies or mild tranquilizers would be beneficial.
*This column first appeared on Guideposts.com, July 2009.
What about your dog? Is he afraid of fireworks? Have you found a calming technique that works for your dog? Or does your dog enjoy sharing the 4th of July festivities with you?!