Dog Firework Fears
I had gone to a seminar on rescuing and adopted dogs at Pasadena Humane Society, never intending to come home with a dog, but that’s how Conner came into my life. I like terriers because they’re feisty, quick learners, tireless, and generally fearless. He’s a Jack Russell mix, so he fit the bill — and how could I resist that face???
I knew that Jack Russells are perpetual motion machines who have no “off” button just like the Energizer Bunny. I got used to that because he was such a clown and made me laugh. But I wasn’t prepared for his fears — the first came the instant we arrived at home. I live on the second floor, and he was afraid of stairs. He had to get over that one quickly or he was going to go back to Pasadena. He did. Phew! There were other fears, too, but we worked on them, and he did well.
Except for fireworks. Every New Year’s Eve and 4th of July, he would panic, start shaking, wedge himself under the bed, and then become catatonic. I had to drag him out *the next day*, but he still would not eat. Then he would come out to get something to drink, and I would take him outside to eliminate. He would come in the house, still shaking, and go right under the bed. (Interestingly, my other dogs had not had any fireworks fears before Conner came, but his fear became contagious to one of them, although not anywhere near the same degree.)
I read everything on the Internet about dog firework fears along with magazine articles and books and also tried everything (except drugs — I stay away from them myself, and I try to use them as a last resort for my dogs) — from melatonin to peppermint to desensitization tapes to earplugs. Nothing worked, and this year it was going to be drugs because I didn’t want him to be soooo scared.
Then, by chance, Conner gave me his own answer.
Some construction that had just started a couple doors down during the spring, and the noise was bothering him so much that he would not eat breakfast. I left the food down hoping that he would eat, but he wouldn’t go near it. While I was waiting for him to start eating, I dropped something on the rug and had to vacuum it up. As soon as the vacuum started, he went to his food and began eating. Wow! I stopped vacuuming – he stopped eating. I started vacuuming – he started eating. The noise of the vacuum cleaner had drowned out the construction noise.
So I decided to try it out over the 4th of July. Thankfully this year, there were very few neighborhood fireworks before the 4th, but there are always several major fireworks displays all over Los Angeles which generally last from 9:00p.m. to 11:00p.m.
At 8:55, I closed the windows, turned on all the fans, the vacuum cleaner, and all the radios and TVs in the house full blast. The radios and TVs were on different stations. I put earplugs in MY ears. But for the next two hours, Conner stayed in the middle of the floor or moved into his favorite spots in different rooms, which was his normal routine. Yippee!!! It worked. Dog fear of fireworks cured!
But sometimes I bask in glory before it’s time. I turned on the eleven o’clock news, and what’s the first news story? Fireworks. He went under the bed and stayed there all night but came out on his own in the morning and went for a walk with no problem and then ate breakfast. Ta-da! Hearing fireworks on TV was nowhere near as frightening to him as hearing it live in the neighborhood.
I think this went well because we had previously worked on Conner’s other fears and he had overcome those. Helping your dog overcome his fears can be a long process, but it is so gratifying. If your dog has generalized fears and especially fear of noises other than fireworks, it may not work. or it may take longer than just one evening, so start a few days before and slowly build up the volume. Then on the 4th or the 31st, start about 9:00 with the TVs and radios on — don’t use the vacuum if he is afraid of it — and put them at normal volume. Gradually increase the volume throughout the evening as long as your dog is comfortable. If he becomes uncomfortable, then stop. But remember, this method may not work for your dog.
On July 4th and New Year’s Eve, be sure to keep your dog inside and close the drapes and windows. (Some dogs jump through windows to escape their fears!) If he is outside — especially if you are not home — his fears may cause him to escape the yard.
Take him for his potty walk before the “official” fireworks display begins. Have him on leash and check to see that his collar is secure so he cannot slip out of it because there are always neighborhood people with their own fireworks. And be sure he is wearing ID tags with current information just in case he does escape.
Give him a safe place. For some dogs, it’s his crate. For others, it’s under the bed. If you crate him, be sure he is trained to LOVE his crate *before* the fireworks start.
You may also use some calming products to help your dog overcome his fear of fireworks.
- Calming Products for Dogs. Begin to give the remedies a few days before the 4th.
- Noise Phobia CDs for Dogs (The CDs give you a program to desensitize your dog to various sounds, including fireworks.) Start the desensitization process at least a week before the 4th for optimum results.
- Adaptil (which is a pheromone smells llike his mother, but we can’t smell it.) There are three types — one that plugs into the wall, one that is a collar, and one that is a spray.
- Thundershirt. Put the Thundershirt on *before* the fireworks start.
- Rock Rose (which is the Bach Flower Remedy for terror) Begin to give the remedies a few days before the 4th.I’d love to hear what your comments are. Have you helped your dog overcome his fear of fireworks?
Please share your experiences with your dog and his fear of fireworks or ask a question so we can begin a dialogue to help each other.
Disclaimer: This article is for information only. It does not replace a consultation with a dog trainer, dog behavior consultant, or veterinarian and may not be used to diagnose or treat any conditions in your dog.
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Copyright Caryl Wolff 201