MANSFIELD -- Independence Day fireworks this weekend may not be a cause for celebration for your family dog.
In fact, the loud booms and bright lights may be a cause for terror.
"Fireworks can be incredibly scary and disorienting for them due to the loud noises and bright lights," Richland County Dog Warden Missy Houghton said Thursday.
Houghton said dog owners who know their pet is terrified of fireworks may want to call their veterinarian in advance to seek some form of anti-anxiety medication.
Houghton advised dog owners to close window blinds and curtains and to turn up the volume on TVs and radios to help muffle sounds coming from neighborhood firework shows.
"Please close windows and doors," she said. "We have seen cases where dogs jump out through open windows when they become panicked."
She urged pet owners to give their dogs a safe spot where they may feel better protected from sights and sounds associated with fireworks. Houghton said it's a natural fear for some dogs.
"If you heard random explosions and bright lights across the sky and had no idea what it was ... you would likely be panicked, too," she said.
"Fortunately, there are some dogs that don't care. Some, however, care a whole lot. Plan in advance to help those dogs," Houghton said.
The dog warden encouraged owners to make sure their dogs have a current ID collar with their license and also to be microchipped.
"All of that information is helpful in the event the dog flees and ends up with us so that we can get them back home safely," Houghton said.
Just because a dog has not shown fear in the past doesn't preclude it this year, Houghton said.
"As dogs grow older, sometimes they become more reactive to things that they did not react to in the past. Try to cushion them from this holiday as much as possible," she said.
The American Kennel Club, on its website, also offers advice for dog owners for this weekend:
1. Keep Your Dog Away From Fireworks
“First of all, don’t take your dogs to fireworks shows,” says Dr. Judy Morgan, a vet in New Jersey. “And don’t leave them outside during fireworks.” Keeping your dog inside in the evening on the Fourth of July is the best idea, especially if you fear they might not react well.
2. Create a Safe Haven For Your Dog
Morgan recommends creating a place where your dog will (hopefully) feel comfortable. “You should get your pet used to a calming environment beforehand. Dogs are den animals — they’re looking for that cave to get away from it all.”
Try setting up an area in a quiet space away from windows — such as a basement or a larger closet — so that they can’t hear or see fireworks. Use a crate if that’s where your dog feels safe, and make sure to provide your pup with familiar toys and treats.
3. Play White Noise
You can try leaving a fan, TV, or radio on to help mask the sounds of the fireworks. “There’s some classical music called ‘Through A Dog’s Ear’ that has been shown to have calming effects for dogs,” says Jenn Stanley, certified behavior consultant and professional dog trainer, and co-owner of Awesome Pawsabilities Pet Training & Behavior Consultations based in North Carolina.
4. Comfort Your Dog
If you can, try staying home with your dog or leaving them in the hands of a trusted person. One of Morgan’s relatives usually stays with her dog in the closet to help soothe the animal.
“You absolutely can and should comfort your dog if he’s afraid,” said Stanley. “The key here is in how you do so. It’s important to remain calm and use a soothing, even tone. Petting them can be comforting — long, slow, firm strokes along the length of their body are typically very soothing.”
The one thing to avoid? Seeming frantic in any way, says Stanley. Rapidly saying, “It’s OK, it’s OK, it’s OK” in a higher-than-average pitch may make your dog think that there really is something to fear. Try your best to remain calm and reassuring to help your canine companion.
5. Walk Them Before the Fireworks Start
Head out for your long walk before the sun sets to increase the chances that you’ll avoid the sounds. When you do go out, you’ll want to ensure your dog is secure on a leash before your walk.