If you love the Fourth of July, it may be one of the few times that you find yourself thinking about the differences between you and your dog instead of the similarities. (It will probably also happen if you ever decide to compare your respective views on rolling in cow pies.) Having the day off to barbecue, watch a parade and see the fireworks may be heavenly for most people, but not for most dogs.

Okay, perhaps they’ll enjoy the barbecue if enough of the food lands on the ground, but even then, they may find their insides upset later on. And though it may seem that the parade would appeal to the most social of dogs and those without any kind of personal space issues, the crowds are overwhelming and scary to almost all dogs. For small dogs especially, there is a very real danger of being squashed or stepped on in such a setting.

Of course, the big misery for dogs on Independence Day is the fireworks. Dogs who fear loud sounds, especially those with true noise phobias, suffer the most. But even dogs who go through much of the year with nothing more than a normal startle response to a dropped pot or a car backfiring can freak out when dealing with the prolonged nature and wide scope of fireworks. Sadly, July 5th is often a busy one at shelters due to the number of dogs who get lost after panicking during fireworks and running through or over a fence or out a window.

I urge people to keep their dogs inside the house and away from fireworks even if they are sure their dog can handle it. Noise phobias often develop over time and get worse. I’ve seen many dogs who had no reaction one year but fell apart the next. Many people who are dealing with mild fear or discomfort in their dogs during the fireworks display one year will be facing a problem that has escalated by the following year. It’s not worth the risk!

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Some celebrations on this holiday can be pleasant for truly stable dogs — a small gathering of people for a simple meal, walking around town together during the day and away from the biggest crowds, and certainly spending time with you if you have the day off. However, the parades and the fireworks that are so integral to our celebrations are rarely cause for joy among our dogs.

It pains me personally that this is one of the most dreaded days for the canine set because it’s my birthday. When people told my Mom, “You had a little firecracker,” she answered, “No, I had a little sparkler,” and I’ve always loved both fiery ways to celebrate Independence Day. As a child, I even believed it when my Dad joked that the fireworks were just for me. I love to share my favorite activities with dogs, but unluckily, my birthday is the one day of the year that it is the most difficult.

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, Certified Professional Dog Trainer, author, and an Adjunct Faculty in NAU’s Department of Biological Sciences.

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