By the time a dog's sense of hearing has fully developed they can hear 4 times the distance as well as pick up on higher pitch sounds than a human with normal hearing. This is one of the many traits that make dogs such amazing service and guide animals. That same heightened sense of hearing can create incredible anxiety in a service dog to the point where one exposure to fireworks, even if the dog is at home, can cause sound shyness which forces the dog to have to retire early and no longer work as a service dog. This is heartbreaking since the service dog owner loses the independence they’ve gained. Animal shelters generally have to prepare in advance for celebrations like the 4th of July, Canada Day and other celebrations where fireworks are widely used due to the increase in animals running away.
Here are the warning signs of stress in dogs to look out for:
- Stomach upset such as vomiting and diarrhea
- Loss of house training - relieving themselves indoors
- Whining or barking
- Attempting to escape the home or surroundings - the loud bangs of the fireworks can trigger their fight or flight response
- Not willing to go outside after the fireworks display
- Panting and lip smacking
- Attention seeking behaviors
- Restlessness such as pacing
- Trembling and shaking
We at Special Needs Emergency Preparedness love a good fireworks display. Thankfully, there are several preventative measures you can take before, during, and after fireworks celebrations to reduce the likelihood that your service dog will react negatively to fireworks and help keep them in service for many years to come.
Before the fireworks:
- Make sure your service dogs microchip is still registered and your contact details are fully up to date in the registry.
- Snap some updated photos of your dog including face shot, fully body from the front and fully body from the side to post online just in case your service dog does manage to run away.
- Have some missing dog posters made in advance with your updated contact information. You’ll want to do this early before the event. If anything was to happen you may not be able to create and make copies of posters until the following day business day.
- If your dog wears an ID tag be sure the information listed is up to date and easy to read.
- There are plug-in adapters and collars that release pheromones into the air to keep your service dog calm. These adapters need to be plugged in about a week before the fireworks so that the scent spreads throughout the house. You can find them online on sites like thundershirt.com/thunderease which sells a wide variety of products to keep your dog calm and on Amazon.
- Begin to gradually increase the volume on your computer, TV, radio, and other electronic devices on the days leading up to the fireworks so that your service dog begins to get used to the louder volume.
- Check with your neighbours to see if they’re planning on having any festivities that include fireworks. If your neighbourhood is going to be at the centre of the festivities you may want to consider staying with a friend or a family member that lives further away from fireworks.
Guide Dogs WA recommends this activity to start doing before the event:
The day of the fireworks:
- Take your dog on a good walk later in the day so that they’re tired and happy by the time the fireworks start.
- Keep your dogs favorite toys, blanket and other comfort items close at hand.
- If your dog enjoys being in their crate, pad, or pet carrier put them there during the fireworks with a towel or blanket on top. You can also create your own safe area for your dog by having a comfortable blanket under a table with their favorite items as well.
- Feed your dog earlier than usual and take them outside to relieve themselves before the fireworks start.
- Make sure your dog is wearing their ID tag and other identification.
- Turn the TV, radio, or computer if it’s in the same room as their safe area, louder than normal to help mask the sound of the fireworks.
- Keep calm during the fireworks. Your dog will sense and feel your emotional state. If you’re calm it will help them remain calm as well.
- If your dog gets upset soothe and keep them close to you. Touch is very powerful.
After the fireworks:
- It’s important to act as if nothing happened and remain in your calm state.
- Give your dog as much time as they need to leave their safe area or crate when they feel safe and that their environment is secure.
- Avoid scolding or punishing your dog if they relieve themselves during the fireworks.
- If your dog is afraid or hesitant to go outside after the fireworks provide them with extra encouragement and treats when they do go outside to create positive associations with being outdoors again.
- Keep your dog on a leash for a few days after the fireworks when taking them out for a walk. Their recall (coming back when their name has been called) might be affected during the next few days after the fireworks.
- Some fireworks celebrations go on for more than one day so prepare for the odd firework before or after the night of the fireworks.
Some of these items may seem a bit much, but having a service animal that can no longer do their work can bring years of companionship and training to a sudden halt, especially for the visually impaired. It is better to be prepared and ready for an event such as this than having to deal with the possible consequences.
Author: Giada Crosbie
Read more about Giada and the SNEP team here.