With the 4th of July looming over us, I am faced with the question of what to do about Bliss...and my new boy Parker. Both are extremely afraid of fireworks and it turns out where we live, at Silver Strand beach, the fourth is a major holiday celebrated by block parties and lots of fireworks.
Last year, I comforted Bliss with steak, which seemed to work, at least while she chewed. It kept her mind off the fact that the noises were scaring her to death! Steak trumps almost everything is Bliss' world! But I wondered if I was doing the right thing by treating her while she was scared and trying to comfort her.
I just learned that comforting your dog when they are afraid is the right thing to do. In fact, it does not foster fear. Think about, fear is an emotion and animals don’t experience emotions in order to gain reinforcement. Fear is about the scary thing, and that's it.
I have decided this year to forgo the celebration all together in order to comfort my canines. But if you are planning to celebrate with fireworks, or if you live near a firework display, here are some things to try from dog behaviorist Jody Karow:
1) If possible, immediately get your dog away from what is scaring him. Sometimes you can’t. Thunderstorms and fireworks, for instance, you might be stuck with.
2) Try to redirect your dog’s attention. Eating chicken, turkey, a special bone or other novel things he does not regularly get can get his mind off the scary thing, but still allow him to be in its presence. Play his favorite game – fetch, tug or whatever else he loves. Often when you simply pair a slightly fearful experience with lots and lots of fun, the scary thing becomes not so scary any more. If your dog will not eat or play, get some distance away from what is causing the fear and try again.
3) Some people have had success with calming scents like Lavendar or D.A.P. (dog-appeasing pheromone), and some have found relief with Thundershirts or various body wraps. These are in the can’t-hurt-might-help category. Remember though: if the fear doesn’t trend towards better, move on to something else.
4) If, no matter what you’ve tried, you see no improvement, or you see it getting worse, get to your veterinarian, seek a dog professional who is competent at Desensitization and Counterconditioning, or do as I do: get out of town! Do not let fear go untreated.
The bottom line, according to Jody, is don’t let your dog live in fear. Some how, some way: comfort him.