Summer Solstice marks the true beginning of summer, meaning that peak daylight is finally here, and the Fourth of July is just around the corner! As many of us know, fireworks season can be a difficult time for dogs. Whether your dog is sound sensitive or not, we want to share with you some tips on how to keep your dog safe and comfortable this season.
This topic hits very close to home for me, as I myself have a sound-sensitive dog. Gypsy was a rescue who came into my life when she was eight months old. The first summer she was home, she would startle at the sound of loud noises but recover quickly, and without much support from me. The following summer her sensitivities grew and by the Fourth, she was so afraid of the “BOOMS” and “BANGS” that for the rest of the summer she wouldn’t leave the house after dark. She had associated scary sounds with the night time. It took quite a bit of counter-conditioning to achieve homeostasis again but she can finally, and without much worry, go potty outside or go for a walk, hear a “BOOM”, take a treat, and continue living her life without overwhelming fear.
At Central Bark, we believe in a proactive approach to creating a safe and fun atmosphere for dogs. We want to ensure we’re doing everything we can to help dogs be healthy, happy, and whole. To do that, let’s take a close look at how to best plan and prepare for the Fourth of July and the days surrounding it.
Prior to the Fourth of July
Practice sound conditioning
Sound conditioning is a way of creating a positive conditioned emotional response to a sound. To do this work in a setting where you can control the volume and duration of the sound and provide food and treats while the sound is being played. Essentially what you’re doing is feeding your dog food they love when they hear a new, unfamiliar sound. The order of operations is incredibly important—the sound begins first and treats follow. This creates a predictive relationship between the noise and the food.
- First, without your dog present, pick a sound that is completely unfamiliar to them.
- Prepare your food; you want this to be high-value food that your dog can’t get enough of. Do a taste test to make sure they love it!
- Then, with food ready to go, play the sound at an extremely low volume, so low you can barely hear it yourself. Once you’ve started the sound, begin to feed your dog. When you stop the sound, stop feeding your dog.
- During sound conditioning, your dog does not have to perform any known behaviors, they don’t have to sit or lay down, they just eat as the sound is being played.
- As long as your dog is eating happily and you’re seeing no signs of stress, you can move forward and increase the volume on the next repetition. *For visual examples and signs of stress in dogs, see the links at the bottom of this page.
- Once your dog has a good understanding that the strange sound = great food, you can begin to practice with sounds that they feel more concerned about. It is vital that as you progress, you begin with the volume so low that it is barely audible. If your dog begins to show signs of stress, stop playing the sound. It will not benefit them, or your training, to overwhelm them or cause anxiety.
Talk to your vet about calming supplements or support
If you already know that your dog is sound sensitive, talk to your vet about which supplements might best suit them during firework season.
Not sure if your dog is sound sensitive? Have you seen them startle, shake or hide when they hear a motorcycle, a bus, a truck, or thunder? Other than fireworks, those are some of the most common sounds that dogs with sound sensitivity respond to. However, every dog is unique, and any sound can be perceived as scary.
Practice your “day of” routine
When given predictability and consistency in life, dogs can truly thrive. Dogs, like people, are better prepared to cope with stressful events when they’re given the opportunity to practice a routine, particularly one developed with the use of positive reinforcement. In the section below, we’ll talk about preparations for the Fourth of July which can become a part of your practice routine. This routine becomes powerful when practiced regularly, prior to the stressful event.
On the Fourth of July
Keep your dog inside and at home
Dogs have much better hearing than we do, which means that those deafening festival fireworks are even louder to them than they are to you. Keeping your dog inside and at home while fireworks are erupting means that they will be in their safe space, where they feel most comfortable, and the walls of your home will dampen the booming sounds they will inevitably hear.
Play calming music
Calming music can help keep dogs more relaxed during fireworks and will act as white noise to help muffle the sound of the fireworks.
Give them something to do
An enrichment toy, like a stuffed, frozen Kong, can help your dog stay busy and relaxed on the Fourth of July. You could also try an un-frozen Kong, a raw or smoked beef bone, a bowl of frozen canned dog food, etc. Licking and chewing are self-soothing behaviors and the consumption of food causes a serotonin release that will increase relaxation.
Use a leash when taking your dog outside
When taking your dog out for potty breaks, make sure they are securely attached to you with a leash. Many dogs become startled by the sound of fireworks and will go into flight mode. This response means they might not come when you call them, so keep them safe with this extra precaution. Even if you have a fenced in yard, dogs can escape by crawling under or climbing over the fence.
Ensure they’re wearing identification
Make sure your dog has a name tag on during festival and firework season. If they become frighten by the sounds and escape your yard or get off-leash, their name tag will help get them home.
Now that you know how to prepare for the Fourth of July, you can plan and begin to practice your “day of” routine. It can look something like this:
- Take your dog out on a leash for a quick walk or potty break.
- When you return home begin playing calming music for them.
- Offer them an enrichment toy like a stuffed, frozen Kong, raw/smoked beef bone, or another lickable/chewable food item.
Then, continue with your normal daily routine. This is a wonderful, easy protocol to practice weekly.
As the parent of a sound-sensitive dog, I know how frustrating and heartbreaking firework season can be. It’s important to remember our dogs cannot control their fear responses, and you cannot reinforce their fear. Giving them treats, snuggles, attention, and love when they are scared will not increase their fear, it will help to comfort them. If your dog shows signs of anxiety this Fourth of July, don’t ignore them, support them. Work with an ethical, professional trainer to create a plan and better prepare for next year. If your dog isn’t afraid of the noises on the Fourth of July, that’s truly wonderful. However, I would still encourage you to create a routine, using positive reinforcement, to maintain their level of noise comfort. The extra effort can go a long way to preventing noise sensitivities from developing in the future.