The July 4th holiday is around the corner and celebration is in the air. You can help your dog get through the holiday safely and with a minimum of stress for you and for him by doing some simple planning before there are fireworks in the sky. Shelters consider July 5th the busiest day of the year – don’t let your dog become another statistic.
What can you do?
Fireworks can be upsetting and even dangerous for dogs. If your dog is startled, he can run off and escape, and, even if he has an up-to-date tag and microchip, is not guaranteed to be found or returned. Never leave your dog unattended - even dogs that aren’t normally Houdini can become escape artists when frightened.
Know your dog and only bring him to your gathering if he:
- Has heard fireworks before and did not strongly react to them
- Is wearing a collar with up-to-date tags and is microchipped
- Has basic obedience training and owner focus – Come, in particular, must be rock-solid
- Is calm around crowds, playing kids, other dogs, and various other features of fireworks
Keep your dog hydrated - bring along a collapsible water bowl and bottles of water and offer water to your dog occasionally. Keep in mind that he may be too stressed to drink – if this happens, the best option may be to remove your dog from the situation. If your dog is calm, you can distract him with treats, a Kong toy stuffed with peanut butter, a favorite toy, or any other desirable object. Ask kids to play away from your dog. Children running around can be especially upsetting for a dog, and it’s a good idea to ask any kids upsetting your dog to quiet down or play in a separate area.
Keep him away from food - avoid tables where scraps can lay or food can sit tantalizingly close. Never leave alcoholic drinks unattended where pets can reach them. Alcoholic beverages have the potential to poison pets and if ingested, the animal could become very intoxicated and weak, severely depressed or could go into a coma. Death from respiratory failure is also a possibility, in severe cases.
Keep an eye on your dog and be prepared to leave - signs of anxiety include the dog licking his lips, crouching or cowering, whimpering, a tense position, and/or showing the whites of his eyes; if these occur, quietly and calmly remove the dog from the situation. Let your friends know in advance that you may have to leave if your dog becomes too anxious. Keep in mind that a car is not a safe option, as the heat levels can kill him – the safest option is to take your dog home and get him settled before returning to the fireworks.
If you are staying home, you can help your dog cope by:
- Investigating products that may calm your dog – an anxiety wrap, such as a Thundershirt, may make this time less frightening for your dog
- Making sure your dog gets plenty of outside time during the day so that a nighttime trip outside isn’t necessary
- Using sound therapy – play Through a Dog’s Ear or Music to Calm your Canine Companion. This works best if you start playing the music now so that he begins to associate the music with being calm and content, then put it on a couple of hours before the festivities begin and continue to play until the fireworks are over. Noise phobias are not the animal's fault. They can't be calmed or scolded out of their very real fears. The "old" medication standby for thunderstorms was a drug commonly referred to as "Ace," short for Acepromazine (Promace ®). This drug is not the best choice for this condition, because while it sedates, it is not anxiety-reducing (anxiolytic). While it takes away the ability to move (most of the time), it doesn't calm the fears, in effect making them much worse over time. There are newer, more effective drugs to deal with this condition. As always, please see your veterinarian for specific advice about your pet.
- Using aromatherapy – using homeopathic scents like Canine Calm can help dogs relax and cope more effectively with loud noises and other stressful situations. Directions on their website say to spray Canine Calm onto your hands and massage the dog’s outer ears or abdomen, or lightly mist the air behind your dog’s head, inside the travel crate or car, or directly onto bedding or clothing.
Traci Murdock, CPDT-KA, is a Master Trainer, Canine Behavior Specialist, and Certified Professional Dog Trainer, and she is a Talent Scout and Wrangler. She has trained dogs and their humans for over 11 years. Traci's expertise includes pet dog issues, nutrition, behavior issues, dog sports and activities, and rescue and adoption, and she has experience in just about any dog-related subject. Traci volunteers as a behavior consultant and trainer for rescues and shelters.
For more info: If you are interested in learning different ways to solve problems and communicate with your dog, you can go to Training-Spot.net or send an email to TAMIam@training-spot.net with any questions or comments or for help with specific issues that you are having with your dog.