July 3, 2013
Fido and Fireworks
With 4th of July preparations underway, we thought it would be a good idea to re-post excerpts from some previous 4th of July articles. Have a Happy and Safe 4th of July!
We here at DogWatch know that your dog is an important part of your life. You want to share as many special moments with him as you can, so it only makes sense that you’d want him with you for the 4th of July fireworks. Your dog, on the other hand, may very well prefer to be anywhere else. In fact, more than 20% of dogs have severe adverse reactions to fireworks. Dogs have been known to injure themselves and others due to anxiety and stress from the fireworks, run away from home to escape them, and in some sad cases, get hit by cars while escaping or wind up in the animal shelter because they couldn’t find their way back. Here’s what can contribute to a dog’s anxious reaction to fireworks and why keeping Fido away from the flash and bang might be in his best interest:
Hearing: A dog’s hearing is ten times more sensitive than a human’s. If the fireworks sound that loud to you, imagine what they must sound like to your dog! Also, the sudden silence after all the booming and banging is over can be quite jarring to a dog.
Flashing lights: More skittish dogs may not be able to handle the random, flashing light of the fireworks well. It may leave them confused and disoriented, or conversely, make them agitated.
Lots of people: If you’re taking your dog to a large park or festival where there will be a great deal of people, your dog might get overwhelmed if he’s not used to being around that many strangers. Many experts recommend not bringing your dogs to public venues for fireworks, as the potential for harm to your dog or others is too high.
Your reactions: A dog might interpret your “ooh” and “aah” as pain or fear and become agitated because he wants to protect you.
General Anxiety: If your dog is skittish and anxious to begin with, fireworks will more than likely send him into panic mode. It’s important to know your dog’s temperament before even considering exposing him to fireworks.
How to Prepare for the Event
Cesar Millan of TV’s “The Dog Whisperer” recommends several ways you can train your dog at home in preparation for fireworks season. He suggests that you play an audio recording of fireworks during one of the dog’s favorite activities, such as playing with toys or eating a meal. Gradually increase the volume of the recording over several days. This will help the dog get used to the sound and associate it with an enjoyable, stress-free activity.
Dog training classes are also available to help condition your dog for fireworks and other loud noises. Ask your local animal shelter or pet store if they are aware of any such noise-sensitivity training classes in your area.
This preparation is particularly important if you are planning to bring your dog with you to any outdoor fireworks displays. While some experts (including those from The Humane Society of the United States) warn against this practice, others believe that it may be acceptable for some dogs provided they have the proper training and temperament.
Finally, if your dog is particularly anxious around loud noises and if training has not helped calm him or her down, you might consider consulting a vet before the holiday. If your dog is in good health, your vet may prescribe a sedative to help him or her cope with the noise.
Millan, who recommends sedatives only “as a last resort,” instead suggests taking your dog for a longer-than-usual walk before the fireworks start. This acts as a “natural sedative,” with “no side effects.”
Pop, Pop, Pop
When the big day arrives, here are several steps you can take to help ensure your dog will be safe once the first explosion goes off. If you are outdoors, make sure you monitor your dog throughout the display, and keep a firm grip on the leash at all times. Also, be ready to move your dog in the car or even indoors if they show signs of panic.
If your dog is staying at home, make sure they are secure and cannot escape outdoors. This is serious: The Humane Society shared a tragic story of a dog that escaped in panic during a fireworks celebration nearby and was killed by a passing car. You should also consider crating your dog to reduce the likelihood of panic-induced destructive behavior.
After the Smoke Clears
Before getting back to your celebrations, make sure that your dog calms down after the fireworks grand finale. If you are outside, experts recommend that you take them in your car or indoors, and replace the sudden silence with a more calming sound, like the radio or your voice.
If your dog is inside, check on him or her as soon as possible to make sure he is safe. Experts do not recommend “coddling” your dog, as it may in fact reinforce their scared reactions. Instead, distract him or her with a toy and playing a favorite game. Remain calm and “confident” at all times to encourage the same behavior in your dog.
Additional Tips: Thunderstorms
Dog owners know that fireworks, while perhaps the loudest of the summer traditions, are not the only scary time for dogs in the summer. Thunderstorms also cause anxiety in dogs.
According to the American Animal Hospital Association, working dogs (collies, German shepherds, etc.), hounds (beagles, basset hounds, etc.) and rescue dogs typically exhibit the most anxiety during these storms, for reasons that extend from genetics to temperament to the animal’s history. Owners of these dogs should be especially alert during these events.
Again, gradual training is the best option for treating your dog’s thunderphobia. Slowly introducing the sounds and sights of thunderstorms and rewarding positive reactions to the stimuli help the dog grow more accustomed to the storms. (For more tips, read this article.) If your dog suffers from severe phobia that cannot be controlled by training, then consult your vet about other options, including medication.
Remember as you prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July that the day can be a very stressful one for your dog. Add these steps to your list of to-dos for the holiday. And by all means, don’t miss the fireworks! With a little planning ahead, you can fully enjoy them, and protect your dog at the same time.
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From all of us at DogWatch Hidden Fences to all of you, have a safe and happy 4th of July!