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  • Writer's pictureOleg Sobol

Bacon booms! Surviving fireworks season with your dog

Fourth of July is right around the corner, which means the dreaded sky booms are coming. Fireworks season can be such a terrifying time for dogs who struggle with noise phobia or similar sound sensitivities. Trembling, cowering, hiding, pacing, panting – these are among the common signs. As for puppies discovering new sounds for the first time, fear prevention from the get go is critical. The time to start preparing your dog or puppy for fireworks season is now.

Talk to your veterinarian

Fireworks at night

If you already know your dog struggles with fireworks, thunderstorms, or other loud noises, top of the to-do list is to contact your veterinarian to discuss whether a situational medication makes sense. Not all medications work the same, so make sure to ask about the details. For example, some medications may make your dog sleepy, but without providing anxiety relief. Some medications may take 2-3 hours to take effect, while others might set in more quickly. It's a very busy time for veterinarians, so don't wait until the last minute to start this conversation. Talk to your veterinarian today.

ID tags, microchip, and GPS

According to Pet Amber Alert, more pets go missing around the Fourth of July than any other time of year. Even though you plan to keep your dog safely indoors, you or a member of your household might accidentally leave a door open. Check your dog's ID tags and microchip contact information, and update if needed. Just in case your dog instinctively runs out of an open door in response to being spooked by a boom, you want to be sure your contact information is up-to-date. If you use a GPS tracking device, check the batteries and do some tests ahead of time to make sure the tracker is functioning properly.

Sound-masking machines and apps

There's nothing quite like the sound of neighborhood fireworks going off, especially for dogs and their super-power hearing. Use sound-masking machines to try to block as much of the outside noise as possible. Place several of them strategically throughout your home in areas where your dog hangs out the most. For some dogs, brown noise with lower, bass-like frequencies may offer better sound-masking than white noise with higher, treble-like frequencies. You might also consider layering noise on top by playing additional masking sounds through a high-quality speaker system. For example, is a website/app with a large library of interactive sound generators. This Lofi Girl YouTube channel with 24/7 background noise radio options is another example.

"Do not wait for the booms to start before you play the masking sounds for the first time."

Experiment ahead of time to see what combination works best for your dog. Once you find a combination that your dog is comfortable with, turn the sounds on when there are no booms outside, varying the time of day so there is no pattern. Do not wait for the booms to start before you play the masking sounds for the first time. If you do, you might accidentally teach your dog that the masking sounds predict that the scary booms are coming, which could turn the masking sounds scary. We don't want that!

Throw a "bacon booms" party

The big day is here. Or, the festivities have started early in your neighborhood. Time to throw a "bacon booms" party! This simple training exercise is especially important if this is your dog's first fireworks season, or if your dog is a little worried about loud sounds but hasn't shown signs of full-blown noise phobia yet.

"Booms = yummy and fun. No booms = boring and lame."

Several slices of cooked bacon

The procedure is simple. As soon as your dog hears a boom, bacon! Or shredded chicken, roast beef, salmon, liverwurst, or whatever delicacy your dog loves and doesn't get regularly. This is the time for the big guns, not boring, store-bought treats. Add in some over-the-top happy talk and play fun games like fetch or tug while the booms continue to go off. For example, boom, then bacon plus "Yay! That's a fun sound!" plus a few rounds of fetch. When there's a pause in the booms, pause the bacon, happy talk, and play. Booms = yummy and fun. No booms = boring and lame.

A chocolate Labrador retriever playing tug

Adjustments to daily routine

Make a specific plan for parts of your dog's typical routine that might need adjusting on the big day. For example, to avoid being outside during peak fireworks times, make sure you get walks and outdoor playtime taken care of early in the day. Your dog's potty break schedule may need some timing tweaks, too. If you need to skip the evening potty break altogether, have on hand some puppy pads and enzymatic cleaner, just in case. I hope you can be home with your dog during the scary sky booms, but if not, consider having a trusted pet sitter or family member stay with your dog for the day or evening. Don't forget to show them the sound-masking machines and apps, and to teach them how to throw a bacon booms party.

Comfort your dog

Despite your best efforts, your dog might still be terrified on the big day. Your dog might tremble, hide, pace, or seek extra affection from you. If that happens, absolutely comfort, comfort, comfort your dog. You are not reinforcing the fear, I promise.

Create a couple safe and cozy spaces for hiding, and let your dog choose whichever one feels the safest. It could be a specific bedroom, a bathroom, a closet, or even your lap. Let your dog decide, and then provide as much comfort there as your dog wants. Comfort might mean a soft bed, an extra sound-masking machine, favorite toys, an edible chew, or your voice and your cuddles. Whatever is most comforting to your dog in the moment, absolutely give it without any hesitation. Comfort, comfort, comfort.

"You are not reinforcing the fear, I promise."

If you need any one-on-one help for your dog's noise phobia or other sound sensitivities, don't hesitate to reach out.

Have a fun and safe Fourth of July!

A version of this post was originally published on June 8, 2021. It was substantially revised and republished on June 2, 2024.


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