Red, White and BOOM! Eight Do’s and Don’ts for a Safe and Sane Independence Day with your Furry Friend
It’s that time of year again, when the evening skies come alive with pops and booms and flashes, drawing droves of people outside to “ooh” and “ah” over breathtaking fireworks displays. Many of our canine friends, however, are likely hiding out under the couch in terror.
While most of us would love to share the fun with our furry companions, fireworks displays don’t always spark the same excitement on their end. But with a little planning, you can help make sure your pet’s holiday is as trauma-free as possible. Here are a few tips to get you started.
✗ DON’T try to comfort your dog with extra attention.
Your first instinct may be to try to comfort your dog to calm her down, but your efforts will likely only confuse her. Since extra attention and praise are typically associated with desired behaviors, additional attention at this time may unintentionally reinforce your dog’s fear-based behavior.
✗ DON’T use punishment methods to discourage fearful behaviors.
Squirting with a spray bottle, yelling or sentencing your dog to solitary confinement is not the way to quell uncontrolled barking at the height of the noise. Amidst the ruckus of a fireworks display, any negative actions on your part will only vex the dog’s already rattled nerves.
✗ DON’T allow your dog outside without a leash and constant supervision.
According to Pet Amber Alert, July 5th is one of the busiest days of the year for shelter intake in the United States due to dogs running off to escape the noise. Dogs under stress have an uncanny ability to escape enclosures due to the adrenaline factor, so make sure to keep your dog indoors once the fireworks start, or at the very least, make sure she is leashed and under constant supervision.
✗ DON’T wait to act until your dog starts to show signs of alarm.
If you know your dog is afraid of fireworks or other loud noises, anticipate that behavior and its triggers and follow the “Do’s” listed below. Anticipating your dog’s behavior and taking action to combat stressful situations will make a noisy 4th of July a lot easier for both you and your dog.
✓ DO distract from undesired behavior.
When it starts getting noisy outside, try channeling your pet’s nervous energy into a game of tug of war or demolishing a chew toy. You can also encourage healthy play with another dog who does not seemed to be bothered by the noise. Your dog will take cues from her calmer companion and begin to feel more at ease in no time. If the dog still seems distressed, so that she is not able to focus on play or other activities, don’t force the issue. Forcing further activity while the dog is clearly too agitated to focus may confuse and cause the animal to associate play with fearful situations
✓ DO keep a safe spot available.
Does your dog have a favorite place in the house where she likes to hang out? The couch in the downstairs den, or a crate filled with her favorite toys, perhaps? Make sure you keep these spaces available as a safe retreat during stressful moments. If your dog’s safe spot is a crate, just make sure to leave the door open for her. Dogs often panic when they find themselves confined in closed spaces when fear strikes, and they may injure themselves trying to escape.
✓ DO condition your dog to loud noises ahead of time.
Even if your dog doesn’t seem to be bothered by sudden, loud noises, it’s not a bad idea to try exposing her to recordings of such sounds, quietly at first, and gradually increasing in volume, to condition her to those noises without fear. Practice positive reinforcement by rewarding calm behavior when the sound is introduced. The key when using this technique is to not move too quickly and end up startling the dog anyway. Always make sure to stop the noise before it sparks a fear reaction.
✓ DO introduce calming aids to prevent fearful behavior.
There are many calming aids available to help dogs keep their cool amidst the Independence Day chaos. The Thundershirt is a great non-medicinal option; however, do keep in mind that the Thundershirt itself does require an acclimation period. Introduce your dog to the Thundershirt ahead of time, so that it is not further alarmed by the strange, new object in an already stressful situation.
A multitude of herbal and medicinal calming aids are also available, including hemp oil, melatonin and CBD (or cannabidiol). These options are available in many formats, from oils and soft chews to diffusers and medicated collars. Consult your veterinarian to see which would likely work best for your dog.
Every dog has its own unique personality and will therefore have its own way of responding to the frightening sounds and smells that come around every 4th of July. You know your dog best, so trust your instincts when helping your pup weather the potentially traumatic holiday festivities.
By Stephanie Schmidt.