Does Your Dog Turn Into Cujo on July 4th? Shelters Share How They Keep Dogs Calm During Fireworks

As Americans gear up to celebrate Independence Day with grilling, parades, and dazzling fireworks displays, our four-legged friends brace themselves for what is arguably the most dreaded day of the year for dogs. The loud explosions and blinding flashes of fireworks can send even the calmest canines into a state of sheer panic, triggering their fight-or-flight response. (Watch video above)

Does Your Dog Turn Into Cujo on July 4th? Shelters Share How They Keep Dogs Calm During Fireworks

A Dangerous Reality

The risks associated with fireworks are no trivial matter for our furry companions. Terrified pups have been known to escape from homes or yards, risking injury or becoming lost. Some have even destroyed property in a desperate attempt to find safety, chewing through doors or digging furiously. Worse still, injuries from frantically running into walls, windows, or fences are all too common.

And in the most tragic cases, dogs have been struck by vehicles after bolting in fear or have sustained burn injuries from fireworks debris.

“A few years ago we found one of my rescue pups in the toilet.”

Rocky Kanaka

“A few years ago we found one of my rescue pups in the toilet. We think she may have been trying to climb to the top of the toilet in an attempt to be perched up high,” said Rocky Kanaka, pet rescue advocate. “From that moment, we knew we would need to keep her physically with us for the following year’s celebration.”

The Shelter Chaos: Firsthand Accounts

To truly grasp the extent of the chaos that ensues, I reached out to local animal shelters, who graciously shared their harrowing experiences.

“It’s like a war zone here,” confided Sarah, a shelter manager. “The constant explosions send the dogs into an absolute frenzy. We’ve had kennels destroyed, staff injured by panicked animals, and even a small fire break out from a dog knocking over a heat lamp.”

Jenny, a longtime volunteer, recalled one particularly traumatic incident: “We had a young pup who was so terrified that he kept slamming his body against the kennel door. By the time we could safely intervene, he had sustained severe lacerations and had to be rushed to the emergency vet.”

Tales of dogs injuring themselves, going into shock, or developing long-lasting fear issues were all too common. And the influx of lost, injured, or abandoned dogs in the aftermath of the holiday was staggering.

Preparing for Lost Dogs in Shelters

While animal rescues’ greatest priority on July Fourth is caring for the pets in their facilities, animal shelters have to split their efforts between caring for current residents and preparing for new ones. More dogs go missing around the Fourth of July than around any other holiday, and shelters know they can’t let it sneak up on them. Animal shelters are already overcrowded, so this is, without a doubt, one of the busiest times of the year.

Creating a Safe Space With Calming and Rewarding Items

Does Your Dog Turn Into Cujo on July 4th? Shelters Share How They Keep Dogs Calm During Fireworks
Houdini the Basenji in his Thundershirt

With so many dogs in their care, shelters and rescues have developed tried-and-true techniques to keep their furry residents as safe and calm as possible during the fireworks shows.

“Giving the dogs extra walks on the days expected to be the loudest can be really critical,” explains Rachel from Washington dog rescue Juno’s Den. “Walks allow them to release nervous energy, and can also tire them out enough that the effects of the loud noises will be reduced, or even help them sleep through some of it.”

Juno’s Den will also take advantage of tried-and-true soothing techniques, such as playing classical music or providing dogs with long-lasting treats for distraction. Thundershirts can provide a comforting ‘hug’ for some dogs, while others only need a lap to fall asleep on. You can even try volume-reducing items like noise-canceling headphones for dogs!

Candace from All Shepherd Rescue emphasizes the importance of keeping a close eye on dogs, even in fenced yards, and using slip leads for added control.

Nervous Dogs May Nest and Burrow

Rescues have learned valuable lessons for keeping pets calm. Sylvia from Juno’s Den relates how her tiny chihuahua Emilia went missing during fireworks, eventually finding her burrowed between dog beds for comfort. Now “nest beds” allow scared pups a snug hideaway.

Supplements and Medications for Fearful Dogs

While anxiety supplements and medications aren’t the best first choice for facing the fireworks, they can be helpful for dogs who are truly paralyzed with fear. However, this will look different in a small rescue versus a public animal shelter.

“Adaptil and other pheromone-based calming sprays/plug-ins/collars have been a helpful non-invasive tool for calming down anxious shelter dogs,” shares Rachel. “The plug-ins are a good low-effort way to distribute calming pheromones to many dogs at a constant level over a long period of time.” It certainly is easier for rescue volunteers to worry about one plug-in instead of dozens of medication doses!

However, this isn’t the only option. Supplements like melatonin, CBD, or calming chews should be given with veterinarian approval, but they can be extremely effective. The downside is their expensive cost, of course, but in many cases, the benefits greatly outweigh the risks.

Dog Parents’ To-Do List For July Fourth

If this seems like a lot to prepare for–it is! Fortunately, most dog rescuers aren’t doing it alone. There are plenty of dog lovers and adoption advocates who will be looking out for dogs in need this Fourth of July, but these are All Shepherd Rescue’s best tips for keeping your dog safe this holiday.

  1. Microchip & Collar: Let’s start by addressing your anxiety first. One of the best ways to do this is by ensuring your dog has their collar and ID tags on and that their microchip is registered. Every year, hundreds of scared dogs escape and run far away from the chaos. By taking these precautions, you can increase the chances of your best friend being brought home quickly if the worst happens.
  2. Exercise is key: Spend quality one-on-one time with your dog before the fireworks start. Engage them in plenty of exercises, such as a strenuous game of fetch, a long walk or run, or an afternoon of tug-o-war. A tired dog is less likely to be anxious and, if you need to leave them at home while you go watch the fireworks, they’ll feel less resentment because they’ve had ample time with you. Do walks early!
  3. Make sure the gates are secure, but take all dogs out on leashes with a slip lead, even if they normally go out without one.
  4. CBD: Consider using an all-natural remedy to help your dog relax. I recommend a high-quality CBD oil, which you can administer about 30 minutes before the fireworks start. It won’t put your dog to sleep, but it will help reduce their anxiety and make them better able to handle the stress of all that noise.
  5. Calming Drug: For dogs highly at risk, make sure you have a prescription for calming drugs.
  6. Music: Play classical music or turn on DOGTV .
  7. And most of all, never take your dog to a 4th of July Fireworks show.

With these tips in your toolbelt, you’ll be better prepared than ever to give yourself and your dog the safest Fourth of July yet! And while you’re relaxing at home, you can sit back happily and know that dog owners across the country are doing the very same thing. Happy Fourth of July!

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