Swaddling, puzzle games and extensive playtime can help distract or comfort your dog
The Fourth of July is a sacred American ritual filled with hot dogs and baseball, cold beer and sparklers.
But for many of America’s dogs, it’s the scariest day of the year. The booming of fireworks can be so terrifying that they tremble violently, try to hide in bathtubs or under beds, pace frantically or even lash out at humans and other pets.
Many dogs are so gripped by fear that they flee their homes, sometimes never to return.
USA TODAY talked to animal experts to find out what you can do to help your stressed-out pup this Independence Day. Here are their top tips:
Get them chipped
Only about 20 percent of pets in the U.S. are microchipped, said Renee Wolfgramm, animal welfare director for 24Pet, which distributes the devices.
Animal experts agree that microchipping is the best way to recover a lost pet. Once a dog is chipped, any vet or animal shelter will be able to use a scanner that will tell them who the dog’s owner is and how to reach them.
“Dogs are about twice as likely to get back home with a chip,” Wolfgramm said.
Most shelters and animal rescues now include chipping with pet adoption. For people with unchipped dogs, they can find free chipping events in their nearest city or get an appointment with a vet or shelter that can do it.
In 2021 alone, more than 3,000 pets in Los Angeles were reunited with their families because of microchips, according to LA Animal Services.
If your pet is already chipped, it’s important to make sure to update any changes in phone numbers or addresses using the 15-digit chip number. If you can’t find your dog’s information, a local animal shelter should be able to scan it to help owners track down how to update their registration, she said.
Fortify the house
Chipping is designed to be a backup plan. It’s much easier to ensure your dog doesn’t get out in the first place.
If there are fireworks going on, be sure not to open any doors when the dog is nearby. They may bolt.
It may be best to keep them in a kennel if they’re already used to one. That way, they are contained to what they view as a safe space, said Lindsey Demko, who owns a dog-training business in Houston.
If a dog is not in a kennel and is panicking, It’s also important to keep them safe.
One of Wolfgramm’s dogs, 15-year-old Logan, gets particularly stressed during fireworks and looks for places to hide. One of those places is the basement, and at his age, getting down the steps is dangerous, so Wolfgramm makes sure the door is closed.
“He’s tried to get into the bathtub, just to find a place to get away,” she said. “So we have to be very conscious of his safety during this timeframe.”
There are several techniques to help keep calm dogs during fireworks show.
Many dogs respond well to so-called thunder shirts, which are basically pressure wraps that provide them with comfort. For a cheaper do-it-yourself solution, swaddle your dog in a towel or blanket after watching online tutorials.
Demko also recommends exhausting dogs both physically and mentally before the fireworks go off.
“Getting them physically tired can help their body stay relaxed but you also want to relax their mind,” she said.
Physically, that means taking them on long walks or runs, and having extended play sessions. Mentally, that means giving them puzzle games to play, like hiding treats all over the house so they can go on a treasure hunt.
One of Demko’s favorite DIY tricks is to put pet-safe peanut butter or treats in a used paper towel roll and twisting the ends shut.
In some cases, medicine may be the best solution for dogs with high anxiety, both Demko and Wolfgramm said.
It’s important to talk to a vet about medications and what might be best for them. In some cases, that could mean a prescription sedative, in others that could mean CBD oil.
Wolfgramm said her dog Logan has a prescription and also finds comfort in CBD oil.
“Every dog is different,” Demko said. “Some people swear by CBD, other people don’t notice the difference in their dogs.”
Consider leaving town
If you live in an area where you know fireworks will be bad on Independence Day and that your dog will be upset, it might be a good time for a weekend getaway.
Many house and cabin rentals are located in small towns or remote areas. Or maybe the in-laws live in a quieter neighborhood.
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