The Fourth of July
Let's face facts my friends. No matter how well you socialize us there are some of us that just can't handle the terrifying crashes and booms of fireworks. Why? Well, sometimes the issue started at a single definable point such as the sudden backfiring of a car while out for a walk, or perhaps the dog or puppy was left home alone while fireworks raged all around from unknowing and oft times uncaring neighbors. And then sometimes there is no way to know what happened to the dog previously so figuring out when it all began is little more than a guess.
With some dogs it isn't necessarily the pitch or loudness of the sound but its sudden and unexpected occurrence that sends us into panic. When a dog panics it can be a very sorry sight to see. Even the sweetest nicest and best trained dogs have been know to jump out of glass windows from several stories high, run repeatedly into the front or back doors in an effort to get them open, bite anything they come into contact with, cry whine bark or very nearly scream in misery while sitting in corners or cowering under beds and couches... the list goes on. Fortunately, whatever the cause or reaction may be, you'll be happy to know that there are ways to help us during this loud time of the year.
Here are the Do's and DON'TS of fireworks fears...
To begin, many dogs take their queue from you. If you present a calm relaxed approach to the noise the dog may settle as well. Remember that if you are nervous about his response to the noise the dog won't know that. He will associate your anxiety with whatever is going on at the time. Don't begin acting worried over him an hour before anything starts. You're only creating a greater fear in the dog's mind so that by the time the noise actually begins it can be truly terrifying.
Next, don't correct the dog for his fearful responses. This will only serve to make the experience even more scary the next time.
Don't coddle him by petting, holding or allowing him up on the bed or couch to give him reassurance when he comes to you or acts frightened. Doing these things will only reaffirm in his mind that this is something to be afraid of. You are literally praising his fear when you do these things.
Don't try to MAKE him learn to deal with it by taking him to see any fireworks displays or setting some off in your own yard. This will probably only cause more fear and may even encourage the dog to panic and try to get away. If you attempt to restrain him physically during this, he may bite to free himself so he can run.
When the fireworks are about ready to begin, turn the radio or TV on and at a some what higher volume than normal. This may help cover up some of the sounds. This can be done in combination with any of the following:
Before the noise begins, try exercising the dog vigorously (within his tolerances of course!) so that he is somewhat tired. Then find the quietest room or spot in the house (ie. Basement or center room with no windows) and let the dog spend the evening there. If you are home, monitor him carefully. If he is in an area where relatively little outside noise penetrates than he may just sleep through the entire hour or so that the fireworks are going.
Try occupying the dog with a favorite game of his, a little training or both with LOTS of positive motivation and treats.
If you have a crate trained dog, try putting him in it with an extra blanket and special yummy chew toys to help him relieve his stress.
Try hiding special treats around the house and encourage the dog to find them.
Talk to your vet about possibly tranquilizing your dog during this time if his fear is to much for you to handle safely or you are afraid he may hurt himself or someone else.
The Fourth of July is one of the busiest days of the year for animal control officers! Thousands of pets flood animal shelters every year on that one date and almost half of these pets do not have ID on them. If the dog must be left alone and he does not have a crate or "safe room" please make sure to ID your dog just in case he should manage to find a way out of the house. You may never know what happened or see your dog again otherwise.
There are ways to keep this fear from starting in young puppies and even counter-condition a fireworks fearful dog, but it takes some dedication on your part to make sure that he is not exposed to the fireworks if you are not there to oversee his activities. The following is the method my mom used with me when I was about two and a half months old.
In the beginning of June she called around to all the different townships in our county to find out if they were planning any fireworks displays and when/where they would be taking place. She then made little maps of the areas and every night that there were displays she would take me for a truck ride with the radio turned up. She made sure to drive on roads that kept us some distance away from the actual displays so that the most I heard was a low dull "pop". Many times we were just able to see the fireworks so I was able to look and make a connection between the dull booms and the sight.
As I grew accustomed to the noise, she would occasionally drive a little closer and began to turn the radio down by slow degrees so I had a chance to hear the louder booms. There were so many displays going on during the two weeks leading up to the main event that when the Fourth of July came, I practically slept the entire ride even though we were within a block or so of the twenty display areas we passed! My mom made sure to drive me around any others that occurred during the summer and even took me out on my first New Years Eve to see more fireworks. Now at nine years old, I happily lay beside my family in the midst of hundreds of other people looking up at the night sky as the explosions thunder around us.
Using this similar method, you can socialize a young or nervous dog to everything from fire trucks, marching bands, parades, thunderstorms and anything else that tends to be a little on the loud side. I have even been to firing ranges and have been socialized to the sound of many different guns being fired!
Remember that every dog and their tolerances are different, so for further help with a noise phobia dog or puppy, I recommend consulting a canine behaviorist to get a method that will be best for you and your beloved pet.
Have a Happy and Safe Fourth of July!!!