POP! BOOM! BANG-SPARKLE-FLASH! 4th of July and Our Pets

While us humans enjoy cookouts, friend and family get-togethers, and ultimately, when darkness falls, glorious fireworks, the celebration is not always shared with the same enthusiasm by our dogs and cats.  Our parrots are a mixed bag; many of them are excited by the noise and colour and drama, our back yard chickens are mostly on their perches and immune to the drama around them.

So, how can we help soothe these fears?  I am including an excellent article from British dog trainer, Victoria Stilwell, for advice.

To paraphrase, don’t do as I did. One year, I thought (how STOOOOPID could I have been?!?!) that it would be really fun for my very social dog to go with the family that I lived with then to Kirkwood Park to the 4th of July celebration, which included fireworks. She enjoyed the preshow (got her own hot dog – again, do as I say, not as I do …) but when the fireworks started, she was obviously and understandably alarmed.

I started out by putting all 70 lbs of her in my lap and covering her ears and eyes, and ended up by mercifully walking her back home, missing the event myself, which was just punishment for my senseless stupidity in not thinking things through from my dog’s point of view.

There is a family story of me as a toddler on the East coast; my parents took me to a fireworks show, I was terrified. I apparently covered my eyes, my parents were urging me to cover my EARS and enjoy the show. Like a dog, I did not have the ability to process that information and was not able to be consoled. Empathy needs to be the high emotion, here, poor animals.

Of course, I also worry about the wild animals affected, such as my majestic Canada geese that I work with, and the feral cat colony that I live among, but that borders on the impossible task of Save The World … and that is a hard burden to live with when one mentally takes it on …

So, for dogs and cats at home: find a room that is familiar to them and comfortable to them and give them some really wonderful things to do/eat/chew/hide/sleep in.  Put a low radio on with some nice classical music – NO distressed, call-in talk shows, no high-vamped rock stations, instead, something very soothing, and just loud enough to cover the sounds of the fireworks outside. Draw the shades so that the flashes that might be visible are not alarming. If a family member can sacrifice the celebrations, have someone stay home to monitor stress levels and if the extreme need be, they can even read out loud to the animals (read the newspaper or the latest school homework assignment) or – as a non-TV watcher I can’t believe that I am recommending this – but watch TV and have the sound try to cover the noises outside.

For dogs, get them out to potty before dark and the subsequent fireworks before all the shenanigans begin, so that they can cocoon comfortably inside during the festivities. If you have indoor/outdoor cats, make sure that they are INDOORS and safely ensconced away.

With a little bit of sympathetic foresight, your pets can be kept safe for the 4th of July, and you, too, can be free to enjoy the celebration.  Be Safe!  Be Careful!  Enjoy!

Dorene Olson
animal behaviour consultant/trainer

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