How to deal with fireworks-fearing dogs on the Fourth of July


What’s Independence Day to us is a random day when the sky comes crashing down for dogs.

While there’s no way to warn pets of what’s coming July 4, dog owners often go to great lengths to prepare for the explosions and flares that will fill the air come nightfall.

Due in part to being spooked by fireworks, more pets go missing at this time of year than any other. The American Kennel Club says that since dogs don’t understand where the noises they’re hearing are coming from, they sometimes try to flee. The smell of chemicals, gunpowder and smoke can also cause confusion.

Pet Amber Alert reports that the holiday leads to up to a 60% increase in lost pets each year. That pet recovery systems company claims 86% of those pooches are never reunited with their families.

The consensus is that it’s a good idea for pet owners to walk their dogs before fireworks displays begin, then keep them indoors while the bombs burst overhead. Dogs should wear collars and name tags just in case they somehow wind up heading for the hills. Some veterinarians will recommend sedatives to keep pups calm.

According to dog specialist Brandon McMillan, the Emmy-winning host of CBS’ “Lucky Dog” from 2013 to 2020, dog owners now have more options than ever.

“I like to do what’s called a layered approach,” he said.

That means attacking fear on multiple fronts, which includes putting dogs in compression shirts, applying CBD oil to their fur and playing music to drown out noise from explosions. Compression shirts can create a light degree of pressure that can calm canines.

Often times, McMillan said, frightened animals run so far from their homes that their owners have no idea where to look for them.

“When they get out of the property, it’s almost worse because now they’re in the middle of the fireworks and they run and run faster,” he said. “God forbid they get hit by a car, which is a very common thing.”

According to McMillan, lots of dogs don’t have issues with fireworks. While veteran pet owners likely understand their dogs’ sensibilities, new ones may not yet know if their recently added family members are sensitive to very loud sounds.

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“You’re going to find out very quickly,” he said.

Dogs who are highly reactive to loud sounds, he finds, may surprise their owners once their flight response takes hold.

“These dogs will harm themselves,” he said. “I’ve seen dogs go right through screen windows and scale six-foot fences effortlessly because the adrenaline is pumping so hard.”

Should a dog become separated from its family amid the upcoming Fourth of July activities, the American Kennel Club offers an AKC Reunite program that helps bring pups back home. Its busiest days are July 5 through July 8.

McMillan suggests anyone who sees a stray that may have gotten out of its home tries reining it in and, if it isn’t wearing tags, taking the animal to a vet or shelter to see if it’s microchipped. He said lost dogs are going to need all the help they can get in post-pandemic America.

“Unfortunately, over the last couple of years, there’s been a huge slash in budgets in pretty much every city across the country,” he said. “And the first thing they’re going to slash in the budget [is] animal control.”

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