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Big Bang

Be mindful when firing the works

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It’s a tradition. Every Fourth of July, I spend the afternoon swimming and the evening cuddled up on the couch with my mom, watching a movie and eating popcorn.

Personally, I’m terrified by the sound of fireworks (and thunder), so Independence Day is not my favorite day of the year. And I’m not alone in this. In fact, a fear of fireworks is a normal canine reaction.

Think about how you feel when you are startled by a loud, unexpected noise. Your heart might start racing, your adrenaline gets flowing, you might even scream. Well, dogs feel the same way when spooked by one loud, unexpected firework explosion.

Canines have keen senses which make a fireworks display a more intense experience. We have a more acute sense of hearing than humans, so those loud booms, crackles and whistles are alarming. Plus, dogs are also much more sensitive to smell, which means the unusual burning odor can be frightening.

Still, people wonder why some dogs, who aren’t sensitive to the noise of thunderstorms, get anxious at the sound of fireworks. There’s an explanation for that, too.

Thunderstorms have a lot of warning signs, like changes in wind and air pressure, so dogs anticipate them. Fireworks, on the other hand, have no warning, and can’t be explained to dogs the way you would to a child. The sudden bangs and flashing lights are much scarier than thunderstorms.

The kinds of fireworks that make noise cause many dogs to perceive them as a threat, which triggers our fight-or-flight response. Your dog may bark at the noises or try to run and hide, or he may show other signs of anxiety, like restlessness, panting, pacing and whining.

Good thing there are ways you reduce your dog’s firework anxiety.

Create a safe space

If your dog’s crate-trained, he may feel more secure inside his crate. If not, put his bed in a quiet room—maybe play soothing music—and offer him a chew toy to keep him occupied.

Try a wrap

These work like swaddling does for human infants. They make your dog feel secure during stressful situations.

Stay calm

Making a big fuss around your dog only shows him there’s a good reason for him to panic. Dogs and cats look to you for reassurance, so keeping your cool helps your dog understand there’s no real danger.

You’ve probably heard this a gazillion times already, but it’s worth repeating. More pets end up in shelters on the Fourth of July than any other time of year. Fireworks can scare the bejeezus out of pets, and when animals are scared, they tend to bolt and keep running until they’re far away from whatever scares them.

Make no mistake about it: It’s not a good idea to take your dog to a fireworks display. Don’t think of this in terms of your dog missing out on a fun time—that’s your guilt. Your dog won’t know what he’s missing. You’re being a good pack leader by not exposing him to the racket. And when the booms and bangs are over, your dog will be glad you made it a less stressful experience!

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