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Tips to Keep Your Pet Calm During Fireworks Season

The fireworks that come with July 4 celebrations can be a nightmare for many dogs, but there are ways to keep man's best friend calm. Here are a few methods Patch readers and local experts recommend.

For some dogs, the weeks surrounding July 4 are nothing short of an unending noise nightmare.

With larger, louder fireworks , the nightly explosions in Macomb Township's neighborhoods and push some dogs to the brink of nervous breakdowns.

Office Manager Kitty Beller said her front desk has already been flooded with calls from local pet owners looking for ways to keep their pets calm and numerous Macomb Patch readers have expressed their concerns on the Patch website and Facebook page.

So with Independence Day less than two weeks away, Macomb Patch set out to find some solutions to this problem. Here are a few the tips local pet owners and experts had to share:

Buy a Thunder Vest

Also sold as a Thundershirt or storm T-shirt, Beller said many of her clients swear by this pet product.

“The whole idea is it feels like a hug,” Beller said. “They’re a little more expensive, but people like them and they’re really selling a lot when you talk to the pet stores.”

Designed to provide a calming effect for the dog, the shirt adjusts to provide a snug fit that will deliver a constant, gentle pressure to the dog’s torso.

Macomb Patch readers Jill McCollom Brandon and Anne Bassier have both had success with this product and Rick "The K9 Coach" Napolitano said in his 40 years of dog training, the Thundervest is the one item that seems to work on even the most frightened pets.

“I just got my dog a Thundervest on Saturday,” Brandon posted on the Macomb Patch Facebook page. “She is a 4-year-old German shepherd and (has) never until this year been afraid of the fireworks! So far the vest is doing great!!”

"It really works," Napolitano added. "For people who don’t want to take the effort or time to train their dog out of the problem, I recommend that a lot. I don't like people to waste their money."

This product sells at pet supply stores like PetSmart and online for around $40.

Use a Tranquilizer/Sedative

Available from your veterinarian by prescription, tranquilizers are one of the most common methods used by pet owners.

“You can always go to your vet and get (your pet) a mild tranquilizer to take the edge off,” Beller said, but “you want to use a very mild tranquilizer. You don’t need to drug them.”

Beller said pet owners should always talk with their veterinarian before administering any sedative, as only a veterinarian will be able to write the prescription and determine the safest dosage for an individual pet.

Train with Positive Association

For some dogs, simply being with their owner during fireworks is enough to keep them calm, while others require a bit more training.

“You need to train them to be calmer, to keep them more social with sounds and sights other than people,” Napolitano said. “Dogs are about pictures. What they see is what they remember. I have a puppy now and when he was eight weeks old, I took him out to the backyard while my neighbors were shooting off fireworks. I played with him and kept him focused on the toy, so the fireworks became secondary. Now at 14 weeks he’s sleeping on the patio while fireworks are going off.”

While a dog's constant shaking or barking in response to fireworks may fray an owner's nerves, punishing the dog will just create more fear, as the dog will begin associating the noise of fireworks with both fear and punishment, according to HillsPet.com. However, Napolitano says too much cuddling or comforting can make the problem worse.

"Dogs are pack animals and you are the leader," he said. "Soothe it if it feels afraid, but make it forget about the noise. Tell is to sit down. Keep the dog's attention on you. Give it commands, play with it, make it forget about the other stuff."

Provide a Safe Space

Depending on how the dog was trained, providing a safe retreat such as a crate or bathroom may also do the trick.

Macomb Patch reader Jennifer Kleinsorge Szarejko suggests putting the dog in a storage room or basement with music, while Suzanne Zuccaro Dobbie uses a Homedics white noise machine by her pet’s bed to block out the sound of the explosions. 

"Some dogs will look out the window, while others will try to get behind a toilet," Beller said. "They like that enclosed area.”

If your dog has not already picked out a place, HillsPet.com suggests providing one by leaving a few treats in a safe place (i.e. under a bed or chair) to encourage the dog to go there.

With puppies, Napolitano advises crate training immediately to avoid this problem altogether.

"We put our children in cribs and playpens, but we don't want to do it to our dogs. You have to make the crate a fun place to be. Put a couple toys in there or treats. It's his den, his house and it's not a bad place. For a puppy you want to make it small. It's his safe haven. Once a crate becomes a fun place for the puppy, it’s a good tool."

Think Ahead

  • Dogs can easily get lost or make a run for it during July 4 celebrations. Make sure all your dogs are wearing ID tags with a properly fitting collar.
  • Give your dog something fun to do that takes his mind off the surrounding noise. The ASPCA offers these recipes to stuff in your dog's Kong toy.
  • Give your dog plenty of exercise early in the day. Take him to the beach, go for an extra long walk or run or run him ragged with a game of fetch. A tired dog may well sleep through the noise of fireworks.

What NOT to do

While it doesn't hurt to introduce a puppy to fireworks early, Beller and Napolitano agree that owners should not keep pets in the area where fireworks are being launched.

"With the sparklers and such, they could get a little burn and they'll be scared from then on," she said. "It's the same thing with kids–safety first. There are always accidents when pets are involved. Fireworks are fun, but dangerous."

How do you keep your pet calm?

Jenny Whalen (Editor) June 21, 2012 at 12:25 PM
What method have you used? Anyone try an herbal remedy?
Linda Hefter June 21, 2012 at 01:16 PM
I have used sedatives prescribed by my vet...but I did have 1 dog that was so terrified and nothing would work...she had a stroke and later that evening a heart attack and passed. Thunderstorms are often just as terrifying to your pet. I think we need to restrict these fireworks to certain hours of the evening and not let it go on for days and sometimes weeks leading up to and after the event.
Sheila Dettloff June 21, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Great article! I agree with Linda above -- if fireworks were restricted to certain hours it would help a lot. Not that everyone would comply, but at least it would help those of us with pets know what hours we'd be dealing with the worst of it.
Marilyn Varilone June 21, 2012 at 03:55 PM
I am going to try a new method for calming my Golden Retriever. I have been told to place a paper fabric softener (Like Bounce) in their collar. It has something to do with electrical currents during a storm being blocked. I'm hoping this will solve the problem.
Jenny Whalen (Editor) June 21, 2012 at 04:02 PM
That sounds like a really cool Bill Nye experiment. If it works, please share it here and we'll add it to the above tips!

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