It happens every summer: Americans celebrate the birth of the nation by setting off fireworks. Dogs hear the explosions and think it’s the end of the world.
“It’s an abrupt, sudden, very loud sound that comes with no predictability or indication. And if the fireworks are close, it comes with a vibration,” said Dr. Meghan Herron, an associate professor of veterinary clinical sciences at Ohio State’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
“A dog has no idea what it is, or where it’s coming from. It’s loud and scary. They can’t check it out or investigate and decide it’s not dangerous. For all they know, the sky is actually falling.”
No wonder so many dogs run away from home in panic around the Fourth of July. They jump over or slide under the backyard fence, or crash through a window and run into traffic. Leashed dogs being walked sometimes slip out of their collars and race off when spooked by neighborhood fireworks launched from people’s yards. They’re often caught by a dog warden and brought to the local shelter.
“Our intake numbers do go up in the summer in general, and particularly around the Fourth of July,” said Kaye Dickson, director of the Franklin County Dog Shelter and Adoption Center.
Last year, from July 1 to 8, 122 dogs were impounded, about 30 more than in other weeks during July. “The trend is pretty much the same year to year,” shelter spokesman Andrew Kohn said.
Dogs have keener hearing than people, so it’s not surprising that they are sensitive to and scared by loud noises such as fireworks and thunderclaps. Herron’s 3-year-old daughter, too, was scared by the fireworks last Independence Day and covered her ears. Herron talked her through the fireworks and what they were all about.
“It’s hard to talk to a dog,” she said.
If Herron and Dickson can’t talk dogs through their fireworks fright, they do have some good tips to share with pet parents.
Keep your pup safe with these 7 tips
Keep your dog indoors.And make sure your yard fencing is secure, so your dog can’t climb over or under, or break out of the gate.
Seriously, indoors. Don’t chain or tether your dog outside.A panicked dog could race in circles trying to escape, become tangled and then strangled. “I’ve seen it,” Dickson said.
Build a doggy bunker.To help your dog ride out the fireworks if you’re going out, or even if you’re home, create a safe, comfortable bunker in the basement or a bathroom — preferably a room with as few windows as possible. Include in the bunker the pet’s bedding and toys, keep the lights on and even include a fan or white-noise machine to mute the fireworks sound.
Time your walks.Take your dog out for a potty break before dusk, the time when impromptu backyard fireworks are likely to start up. Walk your dog on a leash in the morning, when backyard fireworks are less likely, and make sure the collar fits snugly.
Be mindful of your leash.Be cautious using a flexi lead or retractable leash. A dog bolting in panic could easily rip that type of leash from the owner’s hands. “I’m hesitant about those leashes in general, but especially around the Fourth of July,” said Herron, who recommends using a regular nylon or leather leash.
Consider medication.Talk to your veterinarian about prescribing anti-anxiety medication for your dog if the pet needs it.
If your dog does run away…Ideally, all dogs should be licensed and vaccinated — micro-chipping also is encouraged — but at the very least, make sure your dog wears a collar tagged with your phone number. That will help get your dog returned to you if the animal has run away, Dickson said.
No particular breed is more or less sensitive to fireworks noise. It depends more on the individual dog, Herron and Dickson said.
In Herron’s clinical experience — not based on scientific study, she said — golden retrievers have phobias to fireworks and thunderstorms.
“Cats can get freaked out, too,” Herron said.
Unlike dogs, however, that can harm themselves or household furnishings in panicking and trying to escape the noise, cats are more likely to hide under a bed during fireworks, she said.