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Celebrating Independence Day: Fireworks and Our Four-Legged Friends

Independence Day has always been my favorite holiday. Whether it's barbecues, apple pie, baseball, the great outdoors, a few cold ones, or even fireworks, there’s something quintessentially American about the 4th of July.

But call it the old curmudgeon in me—I haven’t been very fond of fireworks for quite a while. I can still appreciate a quality professional fireworks show in the right setting, but I could do without the DIY neighborhood shows that carry on for weeks after the holiday.

Another tradition we see around this time of year is the social media reminder that hunting dogs aren’t frightened by fireworks and should be looking for dead birds when they hear them. While this sentiment is amusing for some, it overlooks a key point: a hunting dog's association with gunfire is not strictly about the loud noise.

When a dog hears gunfire in the field, there are numerous environmental cues they recognize. They’re outside, they smell the shotgun shells, and they see you holding a shotgun. Most importantly, they associate the sound of gunfire with the presence of birds.

The bird puts our dogs into a state of drive so intense that they can’t be bothered by the noise of the gunfire. They’re focused solely on finding where the bird landed. This drive state is what creates the conditioned response that gunfire means there are dead birds to find.

Now, imagine your hunting dog is relaxed, perhaps sleeping in their crate. Suddenly, the fireworks start. There are none of the contextual cues that typically accompany gunfire. The dog isn’t in a drive state, so they don’t interpret the fireworks as gunfire.

Some people introduce puppies to gunfire by banging pots and pans at feeding time, while others take their dogs to gun ranges for their first gunfire experiences. It’s their choice, and in the spirit of the 4th of July, everyone is free to do it their way. However, it’s important to remember that loud noises aren’t the same as gunfire. There’s more to it than just the noise.

Take it from me and my clan. My old GSP, Rachel, has been terrified of fireworks and thunder her entire life. Whether she’s sensitive to loud noises or even "gun shy," her prey drive and desire overshadow that. Rachel was my first dog, and I got her started around a year old. I wasn’t there for her gun introduction and didn’t ask the breeder about the process. I have no idea if this was her natural instinct or if it was possibly human caused.

This time of year, I like to remind people, especially those with the year of spring pups less than six months old, to take precautions with their dogs around fireworks. Better safe than sorry at such a young age!

With all that being said, while Rachel does her breathing exercises in the kennel during the fireworks show this year, Lucy the Small Munsterlander and Quinn the English Setter will be clearing the house for dead birds.

Hope everyone has a happy and safe 4th of July. Celebrate America and drink a cold one for me!

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