[Noozhawk’s note: This column, originally published on Noozhawk on July 1, 2010, is being republished in honor of the Fourth of July holiday.]
Dear Inquisitive Dog Guardians:
The Fourth of July is upon us once again, so my sidekick Poncho and I thought it would be a good time for some gentle reminders to help keep your beloved pets safe during this time of celebration. While we enjoy socializing with friends as much as anyone else on this festive and fun holiday, we also know it can be very stressful for most nonhuman animals.
As a certified professional dog trainer, I have worked with many owners to find solutions for their dogs who become traumatized around fireworks. So, to help make this day more enjoyable for you and your pets, we encourage you to take a few moments to develop a strategy that will help keep everyone safe while having fun.
The following are some management and training tips for helping you reach your goal of an enjoyable day:
» Create a safe haven for your pet: The safest place for your pet is where he or she feels most comfortable. This is usually inside your own home or a friend or family member’s home.
» Dressed to the nines: Make sure your dog and/or cat is wearing a collar with ID tag that has your current contact information. If your dog or cat is microchipped, make sure that information is up to date as well.
» Train your dog to enjoy fireworks: For dogs that might be a bit bothered by the noise but still want to eat and engage in play, you can teach your dog to associate the weird noise with something great. You’ll want to start this process well in advance, so come the big day your dog will already know the game.
Start with fireworks sound effects at a low volume. Play the sound, then in your happy voice say something like, “Yippee! It’s a party!” Then give your dog a really yummy treat. Use a treat that he or she never (or rarely) gets, such as a small piece of roast chicken or grilled steak. Repeat this process until your dog is looking at you, just waiting for the noise. You can then turn up the volume, but just a little bit. Keep repeating this process until the noise level mimics noises you might hear in your neighborhood.
Positively reinforcing the behaviors you want in real-life situations is a great way to motivate your dog to learn. For more real-world dog training activities, check out the dog training game we’ve developed to make training rewarding for both you and your dog.
» Be your pet’s date: It’s best for you to stay with your pet. If not, consider having a friend, family member or professional pet sitter spend the holiday with your pet, ensuring everyone is safe. A boarding kennel is another option, but only if your pet is already familiar with the facility and the staff.
» Be a good host: If you’re having your own party, either keep your pet tethered to you, place another responsible person in charge of watching the pet, or keep the pet sequestered to his or her own area. If you or another responsible person decides to keep your pet in tow, make sure he or she is safe from explosives and hot grills, as well as unfamiliar foods. If you decide to set your pet up in his or her own area, make sure he or she has access to water, food and his or her favorite toys. You’ll also want to make sure he or she has had sufficient exercise so he or she is more likely to want to nap. You’ll also need to check on your pet to make sure he or she is comfortable and stress-free and to offer potty breaks.
Note: If you’re going out, stick with Plan B and arrange for someone else to be with your pet, at their home or at yours.
» Provide ambient pleasant sounds: Music or a TV show that can drown out the unpleasant sounds of fireworks that your pet already enjoys and feels comfortable around is the best choice. You’ll want to avoid playing anything that is just noise on top of more noise.
» For animals that are very sound sensitive, consulting with your veterinarian beforehand is key, especially since the holiday falls on a Sunday this year. Talk with your vet about options for medications, including prescription and homeopathic, along with aromatherapy.
With a little bit of forethought and planning, you and your family will be able to spend more time celebrating and having a fun time, and less time in the emergency vet clinic or searching for an escaped pet. Poncho and I thank you for being inquisitive, and wish you all the best for a safe and enjoyable holiday.