Fireworks + Fido = Fear
July 4th holds an extra-special significance for my family. It’s the day my daughter Lindsey was born—in Philadelphia, in the very hospital founded by Benjamin Franklin back in 1751. When Lindsey was young, we would tell her the fireworks lighting up the sky on her birthday were for her. Early on, I think she may have believed us.
These days, I don’t look forward to fireworks—not the choreographed type my township sets off, not the random ones neighbors launch into the darkness. Even the most dazzling display is problematic for one reason: Galen hates fireworks.
In this, she’s not alone. Many dogs fear fireworks—not so much the brilliant displays of light, but the booms and bellows that accompany the show. That, of course, is because a dog’s hearing is superior to a human’s.
According to doghealth.com, “The real key to better hearing in dogs is the 18 or more muscles that control a dog’s pinna, or ear flap. These numerous muscles allow a dog to finely tune the position of his ear canal to localize a sound, hear it more accurately, and from farther away… It also means that dogs are much more sensitive to loud noises than are humans. Loud noises that are tolerated by humans may be scary or even painful to dogs.”
Animal shelters report intake jumps each year around the Fourth as more dogs—more than at any other time of year—are found wandering loose. A shelter director in Michigan told a local TV station that it’s not unusual for the number of dogs coming into his shelter to increase fivefold.
So what’s the owner of a frightened dog to do?
This year, I’m testing out the Thundershirt, a blanket-like contraption that wraps around a dog’s middle applying a gentle and constant pressure that supposedly calms the dog’s nervous system. It’s akin to swaddling an infant. My vet recommended the Thundershirt not because of Galen’s fear of fireworks, but because she’s become terrified of thunderstorms. That the manufacturer advertises the shirt’s effectiveness to combat anxiety brought on by fireworks is a bonus.
In addition to outfitting Galen for the night, I also plan to heed advice culled from several online sites:
- Exercise your dog during the day. (Apparently a tired dog is a less anxious dog.)
- Keep your dog inside during fireworks, preferably with human companionship.
- Keep windows closed and air conditioning on to try to muffle the sound.
- Provide your dog with a safe place—dogs often prefer small enclosed spaces—to escape to once the booms begin. (During thunderstorms, Galen likes jumping into our car and wedging herself onto the floor in front of the passenger seat or curling up in the Prius’s hatch.)
- Make sure your dog’s collar fits properly (tight enough so you can fit two fingers under it) and your dog’s ID tags are attached.
- If your dog will be home alone, leave her favorite toys and treats. A frozen Kong or cookie-filled Kong are great because they focus a dog’s attention (at least for a little while).
Happy Independence Day! Enjoy the fireworks, but if you go, remember this is one time Fido would probably prefer you not take him with you.
Jacki Skole is an award-winning journalist, author and adjunct professor of communication. A graduate of the University of Michigan and Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, she spent a decade as a writer and producer at CNN before turning to teaching. Jacki launched WRITE Now to assist students in writing the college application essays that will chart their future. Read More...