Taking The Fear Out Of The 4th
For many pet owners the 4th of July poses unique challenges. Fireworks can be incredibly scary for dogs, and for some, may induce complete panic. Below we will cover some general guidelines all pet dog owners can use to keep their dog safe this holiday weekend as well as some training tips that you can get started on with your dog or puppy right away!
Did you know? More dogs go missing on the 4th of July than any other day of the year.
General Tips & Safety Guidelines:
🎇 Make sure your dog is wearing an up to date visual ID such as a tag or engraved/embroidered collar
🎇If your pet is microchipped make sure you are up to date on your annual enrollment (if you don’t have a lifetime membership) and check to make sure the contact information is accurate.
🎇 Plan on taking your dog out to the bathroom before festivities start.
🎇 Be sure to take your dog out on a secure leash, even if your dog is normally trustworthy off leash, and yes, even if you have a fenced in yard.
🎇 Keep alcoholic drinks out of their reach and contact your vet immediately if you suspect they have ingested any alcohol. Fruity drinks can be quite appealing to a dog looking for a tasty treat.
🎇 Plan on keeping your dog at home/inside during the evening hours, they will be much happier and safer.
🎇Give them a quiet and secure place to relax where they can feel safe. Remember, it’s okay to comfort your dog. You cannot reinforce fear.
🎇Play calming music and run a fan to create some background noise and block out the sound of scary explosions/fireworks.
🎇Consider staying home with your pet if you suspect they may panic during the fireworks.
🎇Calming pheromone diffusers such as Adaptil and compression vests such as Thundershirts can be helpful to create a relaxing environment for a nervous dog.
🎇If you know dog displays signs of severe distress during fireworks, talk to your vet ahead of time about options that may be available to help them during these events. Do this as early as possible to allow your vet team adequate time to come up with the best treatment plan for your dog.
All dogs, and most especially young puppies, will benefit from some simple counter-conditioning/desensitization training games with sounds such as fireworks. Ultimately nothing will truly replicate the real sounds and vibrations of a live firework display, but this training can put you in much better position to help your dog through these events.
Counter-conditioning is the process used to take something our dog may be unsure of or worried about, and through pairing it with things they love, create a positive emotional response to that thing. Desensitization typically comes along for the ride with counter-conditioning as we incrementally expose our dogs to these trigger items at a level of intensity they can handle (are interested and alert to the “thing”, but not overly concerned or upset) and slowly over time increase the intensity until it simply becomes part of the background.
- Start by finding some high value treats your dog gets really excited about. These should be extra special, items like boiled chicken, Happy Howie’s meat rolls, and string cheese, work really well. They don’t need to be very big pieces, it just needs to be really good! ***Consult with your veterinary team if your dog has any special dietary requirements.
- Get a sound recording of fireworks, I like to use this one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AINzMizjDvw&t=51s
- Start at a low volume and make sure the source of the sound (speaker) is at least 6ft away from your dog. Carefully observe your dog’s body language and responses during this exercises, and make changes accordingly (decrease volume, more time between each occurrence of the noise, more distance etc). If your dog vocalizes, starts panting/pacing, or refuses food, lower the intensity or take a break.
- Each time the sound of the fireworks play, deliver a treat to your dog’s mouth. Your dog does not need to be in any particular position for this, don’t worry about cuing for a sit or look at me. If your dog is facing away from you, move/reach around and deliver it right to their mouth. ***It is important that the sound happens first, then the food. You want your dog to think fireworks = cheese, not cheese = fireworks.
- Look for indications that your dog is relaxed such as a loose wiggly body and anticipating their next treat! Do they hear the sound play and immediately turn to you for their next piece of food? If so, you’re on the right track!
- Practice this in different rooms and at different times of the day. Sessions should be short and sweet, 1-3 minutes is best.
This protocol also works for other noises such as thunderstorms, machines, traffic sounds etc. We will be discussing those specific items in future posts.
Through thoughtful planning, management of the environment, and training, we can help take the fear out of the 4th for your dog! As always, training is everything, and everything is training!
If you have any questions or would like individualized instruction, please reach out to us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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About The Author: Seren is the founder and owner of Wonderpup Dog Training. She has been working with a variety of species including dogs, cats, rats, and horses, over the last thirteen years. Seren specializes in early puppy development and behavior modification for dogs. For more articles like this, be sure to subscribe to our blog.