The time is drawing near. July 4 is many a dogs’ least favorite of holidays. Loud, unpredictable noises accompanied with big light displays can be very scary.
I’ve written about July 4 safety tips before and have revised them below.
While you are attending your community parade or other holiday event, if your dog can become over-stimulated or afraid around crowds, unfamiliar sounds and sights, the best place for him/her is at home. You will not be doing your dog a favor by forcing him into a stressful situation. Desensitizing your dog to stimulus should be done in a controlled environment, always with your dog under threshold. Please see the bottom of this post for more on systematic desensitization.
If you spend outdoor time with your dog during the day, remember your heat safety precautions be careful to prevent your dog from overheating. A few things to keep in mind – find shady places to relax, give him/her plenty of water, minimize time spent walking on black asphalt or other surfaces that absorb heat, if your dog enjoys water then hoses, sprinklers and baby pools can provide many opportunities for exercise, watch your dog for any signs of heat related stress.
If you are entertaining, remember to keep alcohol and other toxic food away from your dog. Always actively supervise children around your dog to redirect them if necessary. Hugging, kissing, straddling, poking, pulling on body parts (like a tail), and chasing should be prevented. If your dog has been known to do unwanted behavior around guests, some suggested things you may want to consider are – planning ahead to teach him/her alternative behaviors, make sure he/she has high value enrichment activity toys, and/or give him more exercise before your guests arrive.
This is a good time to double check that your dog has proper identification in case there is an unplanned escape outside a door. Still, make sure to secure your door including a doggie door or screen windows if you have them.
Preparing for fireworks
Provide your dog with plenty of mental and physical exercise before the fireworks begin as a tired dog will be less apt to react.
Know that many dogs are afraid of the loud, sudden noise of fireworks and they may also be sensitive to the vibration caused by the noise. You may see your dog shiver, pant, pace, hide, or do destructive behavior. He/she may turn away from food. He could even try to escape out of your home or your yard which is why making sure your house is securely closed is so important.
Make sure that your dog has an accessible safe place (from his/her perspective – NOT yours). You more than likely have seen your dog retreat there on other occasions where something scary occurred – maybe it is underneath a desk, in a closet, or under a bed. If you are leaving your house, make sure your dog can get to that safe place. Some dogs, however, react by moving and being active. If possible, try to have your dog in an area away from windows with the shades drawn.
If you are at home during the fireworks, spend time with it in the safe place and provide your dog with attention and comfort if your dog seeks you out. You will not be reinforcing fear, and so long as you remain calm, your presence can help your dog cope. If your dog is not too anxious, you may even be able to do some counter conditioning where you give your dog a piece of high value food (like meat or chicken) immediately *after* a boom.
Sometimes wearing a thunder jacket or DAP collar can help; however, not with every dog. And playing white noise, or a television loud enough to mask the noise may help. You may want to consider lower frequency sounds to cover up the low frequency sound of the big booms. (But please make sure that does not scare your dog BEFORE July 4) I found a low frequency station called Low Frequency Vibrations on Pandora.
If your dog has severe cases of situational phobias like fireworks, you may want to talk with your vet about fast acting anxiolytic medication.