July 4 is just around the corner. It is one of my favorite holidays…but definitely not one of Sam’s (our family dog). Fireworks can be an awfully scary experience for our furry friends. I thought I’d take a moment to remind you of a few basic precautions to take to ensure a safe holiday for everyone.
During the day
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.
Provide your dog with plenty of mental and physical exercise before the fireworks.
Planning for the fireworks
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 there. 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.
Also consider dissipating the sound of fireworks with calming music, a fan or a television where your dog will be.
If necessary consult your veterinarian for short term anxiety reducing medication.
About systematic desensitization
Systematic desensitization is a positive approach to not just overcoming fear, but also to teaching the animal to re-associate the fear-eliciting stimulus into a feel-good eliciting stimulus. (This process is called counter conditioning.) With systematic desensitization, you gradually expose the animal to what is scary to it and the criteria for advancing to the next step is your watching his calm behavior and only moving forward at a pace that does not elicit even the mildest of fear responses. The beauty of this is that the animal is always in total control. And empowerment builds confidence. If you need some guidance for doing this successfully, please seek professional help.
Please click here to read how I used desensitization and counter conditioning after our dog became afraid to go outside at dusk following July 4.