How to Keep Your Dog Calm During Fireworks

fireworks-68816_640The big bang theory is no theory – it’s real and is terrifying for many dogs, and also some cats.

Even the most patriotic All-American dogs –American Cocker Spaniels to Boston Terrier - have no way to understand what the those unpredictable explosions are all about. If the fireworks happen to be nearby, dogs may be able to smell them and even feel their vibrations, adding to their fear factor.

At least we know when the fireworks will occur, beginning a couple of days before July 4, and continuing a few days after.

What you do about it can depend on just how scared your pet happens to be. Begin with a consultation with your veterinarian or a veterinary technician with behavioral training.

If your pet’s terror is over the top, shaking, excessively salivating, becoming incontinent and/or not eating and described as “inconsolable” – the most humane approach may be anti-anxiety medication.

Today enlightened veterinarians know what to prescribe. For example, a drug called acepromazine is no longer suggested, as it was years ago, because it doesn’t impact the dog’s seriously heightened high anxiety level, it merely causes drowsiness. Similarly, Benadryl can make dogs sleepy. So, with enough of the drug, the dog snoozes on and off, but the terror and the fear of the terror remains.

It’s arguably inhumane to force drowsiness in a terrified pet. Imagine, you are frightened because you’re in a room filled spiders. To get over the fear, your doctor gives you a sedative – now you’re forcibly falling asleep among the creepy crawlies, as you may struggle to stay awake.

True anti-anxiety medication affects brain chemistry to effectively lessen anxiety. A specific medication that works for one dog may not be as effective for another, and some drugs require time to kick in. It’s best to not wait until July 3 to consult your veterinarian.

For many dogs, drugs may not be required. Instead, behavior modification might do the trick, particularly if you supplement with some products listed below.

Start by desensitizing and counterconditioning your dog to the sounds of fireworks. The idea is to play the sounds of the big bangs very softly as the pup plays or eats, and ever so gradually pump up the volume (and bring play or the food dish closer to the speakers).

At, you can download a free MP3 of fireworks sounds. Celebrated dog trainer Victoria Stilwell from Animal Planet’s “It’s Me or the Dog” offers an entire program with firework sounds on her site, $19.98, Stilwell partners with “Though a Dog’s Ear,” $29.98, on another site.

For some dogs, what might work is to combine several of the products listed below – and “jollying.” Take your pet to the basement, or the most secluded room in your home. Pump up the music so the dog doesn’t hear the fireworks ( and other sites have music specifically made to help relax worried dogs. Another idea is play classical music, which studies show, can lower anxiety), and simply try to distract your dog or cat with play. Don’t worry, you’re not rewarding your pet’s fear; instead you are readjusting from fearful mode into play mode.

Here are some products which might help:

Adaptil: A copy of the natural comforting pheromone released by mother dogs to reassure puppies. Adaptil is available as a plug-in diffuser, or collar to go wherever your dog goes.

Thundershirt, Storm Defender, Anxiety Wrap: Each of these options provides something for the dog to wear which has a potentially calming affect:

Zylkene: A nutritional supplement derived from casein, a protein in milk, and is used to promote relaxation.

CALM: A Royal Canin prescription diet for cats and smaller dogs; it includes two amino acids that help pets maintain emotional balance. Alpha-casozepine,s derived from milk, is shown to have calming effects and so does L-tryptophan. In addition, the formulas include Nicotinamide, also known as Vitamin B3, which creates a calming effect within the central nervous system.

Anxitane: A nutritional supplement that contains L-Theanine, an amino acid that’s proven to reduce stress,

Ear Plugs for dogs: Several sources, mostly originally created for gun dogs, includes Ear Muffs for dogs. Sometimes convincing dogs to keep them on is the challenge,

There are a wide variety of other “calming products,” from aromatherapy to other nutritional supplements. Most of these are without much basis in science, but can certainly work for individual pets.

Most important, no open door policies around the Fourth as frantic pets bolt in surprisingly high numbers. Microchip all dogs and cats, and register them with the microchip provider just cases a pet does get out.

Steve Dale PetWorld, LLC; Tribune Content Agency

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Positively Expert: Steve Dale

Steve is a certified dog and cat behavior consultant, has written several books, hosts two nationally syndicated radio shows, and has appeared on numerous TV shows including "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "National Geographic Explorer," and "Pets Part of the Family." Steve’s blog is


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