The Fourth of July is less than a week away, and even the most stable dog can become a bundle of nerves when the world seems to be exploding!
To protect your dog from the severe anxiety and disorientation of fireworks or similar phobias, try the following:
1) Blow off extra steam! Exercise your dog during the day so he doesn’t have pent-up energy to contribute to his anxiety that night.
2) Make your home a safety zone. Keep your dog inside and supervised during fireworks shows. Draw the blinds and shut windows and doors to reduce the sight, smell and noise.
3) Crate your dog with a favorite toy or treat (frozen peanut butter filled Kong, perhaps!) for his own comfort and protection unless he becomes more distressed or agitated. Covering his crate with a sheet or towel will help him feel safe.
4) Stay calm. Dogs feed off our energy levels and reactions, so the less animated you are by fireworks or worried over his behavior, the calmer he will feel as well. If he seems startled, act like nothing is strange. Feed extra yummy treats like steak. (Refusal to eat indicates a high level of stress. Try calming signals to alleviate his stress – such as yawning.)
5) Avoid subjecting him to a lot of unfamiliar people, places or things at this high-stress time. Don't try to reassure, ridicule or reprimand his stress-induced behaviors. Dogs under stress can behave unpredictably. When in fight or flight mode, coddling or correcting will only exacerbate the problem and perhaps result in a bite.
6) Thundershirts. Dogs that are sensitive to thunderstorms will likely be more frightened by fireworks. The calming pressure in Thundershirts has been shown to alleviate many forms of anxiety in sensitive dogs – including noise, travel and separation anxiety. They are available online www.thundershirt.com, or locally at Bone-A-Patreat and other local retail outlets.
7) Plan ahead and desensitize! Long before the summer’s fireworks season begins, you can counter-condition your dog to associate good things – like treats or games – with big booms and bright lights. Download free resources including a video from www.dogsandfireworks.com (Consult a professional for severe cases.)
8) Distract with positive “play.” If your dog has a high play drive, you can try engaging him in his favorite games during times of stress. Dogs typically don’t multitask – he cannot freak out at fireworks and play with you at the same time!
9) Take extra precautions. Make sure your dog is collared, tagged and microchipped. Neighbors, local rescue groups and Pet Project Midwest’s Iowa Pet Alert try to reunite lost dogs and owners as soon as possible, and proper ID makes it possible!
10) Let him celebrate with four-legged friends at a dog-friendly “Fireworks-Free” party at Canine Craze!
Have a safe and happy 4th of July! Please let me know if you have any training questions or dog issues – I’m here to help and would love to hear from you!
Ask the Trainer: Renee Jetter, ABCTC, CPCT
* Professional dog trainer; co-owner of Canine Craze Performance Center in Urbandale – an 18,000 sq-ft. dog training, daycare, boarding and events facility. Animal Behavior College, 2006 graduate.
* Expertise: puppy development; positive reinforcement training; obedience; competition; agility; tricks; freestyle; scent detection; canine good citizen/therapy dog testing; Paws & Effect volunteer service dog trainer.