Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Calming Your Dog on July 4th: 7 Simple Steps


A Thundershirt can help dogs frightened of fireworks.A client’s dog was under her bed growling and snapping at her when she reached for him. “What happened?” I asked with concern. Well, she had tried to reassure her dog that fireworks were nothing to be afraid of by carrying him outside and showing them to him. In an effort to help her dog she, from the dog’s point of view, completely betrayed him, taking him right into the proverbial firing line. He wanted nothing more to do with her until the booming stopped.

This dog is not alone; fireworks can terrify any dog. They may startle at first but a few more bangs and that startle grows into real fear. Dogs can then be beyond our comforting, needing more help than our good word to cope with the 4th of July. Here are 7 steps to help your dog stay safer and calmer during this next Big Bang:

1) Keep Your Dog Home for the Holiday
Dogs who are normally calm in the car or happy on the back porch can rip into upholstery and bolt through screens (even windows) when terrified. Home sweet home applies for this week.

2) Keep a Handle on Him Outside
Use a leash for all walks when the explosions start. Walk your dog early so you don’t have to take him out once the fireworks begin. You can easily make matters worse and he’ll probably be too frightened to potty anyway. Even if your yard is fenced keep him on leash. Terrified dogs can bolt and do things you aren’t expecting like dive under your house or through a gate. If your dog has ever slipped his collar, get a Martingale Collar. These cannot be slipped when fitted properly and will prevent this from happening again.

3) Mete out melatonin
Dr. Aronson of Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine recommends melatonin for sound-sensitive dogs. I used it for many years with my Australian Shepherd, Caras, and found it calmed him several levels without sedating him. In a perfect world, you give it before the sound starts. Always check with your dog’s veterinarian to see what is right for your dog in your situation. And check labels carefully as the dog-deadly xylitol is creeping into many products.

Here’s what I have been told the doses are:

  • 1 mg (under 10 pounds)
  • 1.5 mgs (10-25 pounds)
  • 3 mgs (25-100 pounds)
  • Up to 6 mgs (over 100 pounds but start with 3 mgs)

4) Try a Thundershirt
Steady, deep pressure can be calming and the Thundershirt applies that steady, even pressure. As with everything to do with anxiety and fear, I’ve seen this work on some dogs and not on others. If it helps, it is easy to do. For dogs who are truly sound terrified, I look for any and all products that make any difference at all then use the best combination I can come up with. Company has an excellent return policy which makes this a good “worth a try” product.

5) Block the Booms!
Masking the sound is worth a try and can keep the smallest bursts from bothering your dog. You can leave on a radio or TV but that sound can ebb at just the wrong moment. For years I used a White Noise Machine and have put it to good use with sound-stressed dogs.

Covering the crate is worth trying. There is even a product made for this situation, though I’ve had no experience with it yet and it has not been reviewed: Taylor Made Thunderhut Crate Cushion Cover.

6) Fire up the pheromones
Dog Appeasing Pheromones (D.A.P.) mimics the scent of the mother dog. This can be calming for some dogs. Seen it help some and not others, which puts it in the category with Rescue Remedy.

7) Dole out drugs
Talk to your dog’s veterinarian now. Believe me, he or she is fielding this question daily this time of year! My vets have always recommended Benadryl as a first option. I’ve used it with dozens of dogs over many, many years with good effect but, as always, speak with your vet.

Herbal calmatives are worth a try as well. There are many great products on the market. Here are some top-rated ones for dogs: Calming Aids

Good luck! When you have a sound-sensitive dog, the 4th of July hardly feels like Independence Day. It’s more “lock yourself in the house and wait for it to be over day”. If it’s that for you, know you are in very good company. Dog lovers around the US will be sitting with their shaking, quaking dogs.

What works for your dog is likely to be a special combo, unique to you both. And my opinion? If it works, do it! And be happy July 4th is but once a year.



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