How to keep your dog calm when the neighbors are setting off firecrackers

The professionals aren't doing fireworks shows this year, but the amateurs are doing their own thing all over the place. Your pet deserves a Red, White & Relaxing weekend too

July 3, 2020
My dog Hazel's face

Me

It's the Red, White & Relax Weekend on The Sound, and I think our pets have as much of a right to unwind and escape as we do.

My sweet dog Hazel is not a fan of things that go boom: fireworks, firecrackers, thunder, gunfire, popping balloons -- that's a hard no.  

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Which makes this a tough time of year for her. So I set out to find a way to calm her down during this noisy weekend.

I heard that since nobody's putting on professional fireworks shows this Fourth of July, people are buying more of their own pyrotechnics and doing it themselves. This is bad news for Hazel. 

Her vet prescribed some anti-anxiety medication for situations like this, and it works, but it takes some time. I'd rather not go through the week of the Fourth with a zombie dog who's drugged-out 24/7. But I can't stand to see her in a state of sheer panic triggered by a random M-80 in the middle of the night.

I went on Facebook and asked for advice, and I got a lot of great suggestions, from the Thundershirt, which we've used with some success, to CBD products, to cranking up the stereo to mask the noises outside (not a super practical solution.) 

But an old friend of mine, the brilliant Seattle musician Amy Stolzenbach, offered a homeopathic recipe for a spray made from essential oils in a witch hazel base, and I think she might be on to something.

With her permission, I'm just going to copy and paste her message:

Thought I’d share this since it’s time to refill a little calming essential oil blend that I make for our dog, Pippin, for her many stress triggers. Fireworks and thunderstorms are the big ones. Yay 4th of July. We’ve tried Xanax and Rescue Remedy but sometimes an oral remedy isn’t enough so having a calming spray to mist on the back of her neck calms her almost immediately - sometimes without the drugs if a thunderstorm happens without warning.

I mix 8-10 drops each of jasmine, clary sage, and peppermint (for stressful car rides and carsickness too) in a base of witch hazel in a travel-sized spray bottle so about 2oz of witch hazel. We call it “good girl spray” so she doesn’t associate it with doing something wrong because she’s stressed

I spray on the back of her neck scruff then wipe my hand through her fur to get some on my palm then I rub her upper chest and neck to avoid getting witch hazel in her eyes.

Keep reapplying it throughout the day and that cumulative stress should ease up -- I think that helps lower the baseline for big stress triggers.

The other afternoon I dashed around and picked up the ingredients and a 2-ounce spray bottle -- it's all easy to find at drug stores, organic co-ops, and supplement stores. I went to my lab -- okay, my kitchen -- and followed the recipe. (It smelled pretty great, BTW,)

Essential oils
Milton Hubatka

I sprayed it on the scruff of Hazel's neck, rubbed it and spread some on her chest, and waited for the pyrotechnics to start. It was a slow night, but I have to say the one "POP" I heard seemed to have no effect on her. The next day I started in the morning and applied it several times throughout the day as Amy suggested.

So far no major fireworks to test it out, and I did have all the windows closed, but I will say that Hazel was extremely chill all day long. At night, the sound of a couple of big booms penetrated the walls and she definitely went on high alert for a minute, but she kind of lost interest and laid back down in no time. Yet when I took her out for a walk, she was ready to roll -- definitely not in a zombie state, which can happen with actual pharmaceuticals.

Is it a success? Not 100% sure, but she seems to be way less quick to get all edgy. I can imagine a lot of scenarios where it'll be good to have a bottle of this stuff ready to use.

If you try it, let me know how it works for you.

And thanks, Amy and Pippin. Have a peaceful weekend.