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Written by Michelle Kretzer

Every Fourth of July, I end up with an 80-pound lap dog. From the moment the first firecracker pops, my German shepherd mix, Hannah, tries to convince me that she’s not that heavy and that the best way for us to mark the holiday is with her squashed up against my legs. Fortunately, there are some ways for both of us to survive Independence Day fireworks without my losing my independence to a canine-inflicted leg injury.

The most soothing thing for scared dogs is to have their guardians close by. It’s pretty easy for me to distract Hannah with games, brushing, petting, or food, and I make sure that I act upbeat and calm in order to reinforce the idea that she doesn’t have a reason to be afraid.

Drowning out fireworks with white noise or, even better, with “Through a Dog’s Ear” CDs, which are specially created by a sound scientist, a veterinarian, and a concert pianist to calm anxious dogs, makes the loud booms seem less frightening, and shutting the curtains and keeping the lights on helps to camouflage any sudden bursts of light.

Melatonin is the best calming natural supplement for dogs, and you can find it at any health food store. Give your dog from 1 to 4 mg, depending on bodyweight, and try to give it a little ahead of the fireworks, if possible.

A Thundershirt might well be the best solution of all. This snug garment (based on the same principle as swaddling a baby) has a very high success rate at calming anxious dogs. Many pet supply stores and vets now stock them.

Also, although Hannah isn’t the type to bolt if she gets startled, many dogs do dig under fences, tear through screen doors and windows, and even chew their way out of crates (another reason why crates are a bad idea) when they’re afraid, so I’ve got her microchipped and I keep her collar and tags on her during the fireworks, just in case. If you know anyone who makes their dog stay outside, please urge them to keep the dog indoors at least on the Fourth of July in order to prevent him or her from escaping or getting injured.

Here’s to a safe and stress-free Independence Day for you and your pooch!