Fearful Fourth of July
I spent this weekend prepping for the mayhem that will be the fourth of July. Five of our neighbors are very big into fireworks and we have, what seems like, a 2 hour show every 4th by the time they are all finished. Shayne is pretty much rock-solid in terms of fireworks, Rio notices them and sometimes will get a worried look on his face if they are really close but he’s largely comfortable, but Bandit, he is an absolute wreck around big noises.
Although Shayne and Rio are generally okay with the fireworks, I think it’s important to try and prevent any issues from starting by prepping for the event and doing some counter conditioning and appropriate preparation.
Reassuring a fearful dog doesn’t Reinforce the Fear
I wrote a full blog post about this a few years ago ( Click Here for the post) but here’s a recap: Reassuring a fearful dog calmly does not reinforce the fear or behavior they are displaying. Yup. It’s that simple. Now, if a person swoops in frantically or in a strange manner and babies a dog or freaks out, it can absolutely send the dog the message that there was something indeed to be afraid of. I see this most often with small dogs in the world–the handler frantically swoops in and freaks out if their small dog goes to greet a bigger dog and the dog starts thinking that big dogs must be scary if the handler starts panicking.
Like I mentioned, Bandit is not so good with fireworks but I have absolutely no problem letting him snuggle close and I will calmly pet him or talk to him if he is looking for some comfort. I am not reinforcing his fear of fireworks at all, if anything he’s being soothed.
Prepping for the festivities on the 4th
Making stuffed and frozen toys like Kong/Tux is a really great plan for the 4th because it is a relatively long-lasting and high value treat that will hopefully keep the pup occupied and focused during fireworks. I have made about ten frozen kong/tux toys for the days around the 4th since fireworks will likely still be heard on days other than just the 4th. I even make a few Kongcicles/Tuxcicles for added time on each toy. Once dusk hits, I’ll bust out the frozen concoctions and let the pups start on their snacks.
Using a product like DAP to help create a soothing or calm environment can help prevent a huge spike in fear. If using the plug-in, it makes sense to plug it in a few days in advance but you can use the collars or sprays the day-of, though I would suggest starting them a few hours before the fireworks. I plugged in some DAP (aka Adaptil aka dog appeasing pheromones) today to help the scent to permeate the room for a while before it’s needed.
Through a Dog’s Ear is a fantastic tool to use either during the fireworks with the calming music or you can use their desensitization CDs, starting a few weeks in advance, to counter condition them to the noises. I have my Through A Dogs Ear music in the CD player ready to go. I will play the music softly while we are watching movies or other things on TV as well.
I also love using a manners minder or simply counter conditioning by throwing high value treats all over the floor after each boom. I might use popcorn, or cheese balls, or kix cereal, or other small things that will scatter all over the floor if I throw a handful into the air.
Fourth Of July Safety Considerations
The Fourth of July is a notoriously dangerous day for our pets. There is a shockingly high number of dogs lost during this single evening. So, here are some safety tips:
- Go for a leashed walk in the late afternoon or early evening to avoid the fireworks after dusk
- Make sure your dogs are completely pottied before dusk begins to set
- If you HAVE TO take your pup out during fireworks, make sure you LEASH your dog–even if they have never attempted to run off or you don’t think they could jump your fence, fear and adrenaline can make them do “super-dog” type things
- Make sure your dog has on a secure and properly fit collar with ID so IF the worst case scenario happens, at least your pup has ID
- If your dogs typically live outside make sure to bring them into some secured building or secured kennel run (with a ‘roof’)
- Make sure all doors are securely latched so the pup cannot escape
- If YOU are setting off fireworks, make sure your dog is secured AWAY FROM the noise and fire of the fireworks/sparklers/etc–they could easily get burned, could severely damage their hearing, and even unused fireworks can be dangerous to pets
- Make sure you keep matches and lighters away from your dog
Please don’t think it can’t happen to you, just last year an experienced dog handler lost a prized show dog (an Aussie) on the Fourth when the pup spooked and ran off. Luckily the dog was found but if she had just put a leash on it could have been completely avoided.