4th of July and Your Dog–Are You Ready?

barbeque

4th of July!  Visions of flags, parades, hot dogs, fried chicken, potato salad, watermelon, homemade ice cream, loved ones and fireworks come to mind!  As much fun as all of these things are for us, for dogs, there are some real dangers!

While some dogs are not affected by the excitement and noise, many have “doggie panic attacks”.  They may lose bladder control, try to find a place to hide, jump through sliding glass doors, go under, over or through the fence and generally be miserable.  Years ago I had a beautiful 80 pound mixed breed dog named Oreo.  She was really afraid of loud noises.  When a  loud noise occurred (thunder, fireworks, something being unexpectedly dropped) she would crawl under the bed.  Fear must have somehow been able to make her shrink, because she always managed to get under the bed.  For some reason, getting her out seemed to always require lifting the bed–box springs and all–high enough for her to escape.

Hide under the bed

What brings about such an illogical (according to us) reaction?  Well, for starters, a dog’s sense of hearing is about 10 times more acute than that of a human! Therefore, your dog experiences the loud noise at a level 10 times louder than you do.  If the noise you heard was that loud, you probably would be looking for a place to hide or a way to get away from it, too!

Unfortunately, It May Be Your Fault

You may be unintentionally contributing to the problem.  If the noise bothers you, your dog may be picking up on your non-verbal (or in some cases, verbal) communication.  Dogs are very sensitive animals.  They respond to signals we don’t even realize we are putting out.

The most likely reason your dog has a fear of loud noises is a result of how you treated her as a puppy.  Puppies can be easily frightened by intimidating things, including noises.  For most of us, the natural response to a loved ones’ fear or anxiety is to touch and to reassure the person that everything will soon be alright.  That’s fine for human interactions, but in the canine world, it leads to a dog with “issues”.  In the pack mentality, when the pack huddles together, it is a sign that there  truly is something to fear.  The good intentions you had when reassuring the puppy you loved, unfortunately may have given her the message that “this really is something scary and worthy of your anxiety”.  Once that was set in the mind of your puppy, she carried it to adulthood.

Don’t Despair, You Can Repair!

Try desensitization.  To do this you will need a recording of the noise (in this case fireworks).  Take your dog into a quiet room.  Play the recording at a very low volume.  give your dog treats, pet her and praise her while the recording is being played.Each day increase the volume of the recording slightly and continue to give her treats, praise and pet her so

Musical puppy

that she begins to associate the noise with a pleasant, calm feeling, treats and affection.  Eventually, you should be able to play the recording at a level that would make even your teenager wince, and your dog should no longer be concerned with it.

Obviously, this doesn’t happen overnight, so here are a few more suggestions for helping your best friend deal with the the “Big Bangs”!

Try doing some of these things ahead of time:

  • Make sure your dog has her collar and ID tags!  Ideally, your dog has been micro-chipped or tattooed so that in the worst case scenario, she can still be identified should she escape from your care–collars and ID tags can sometimes fall off during your dog’s attempt to escape.  Dogs have been known to chew through crates, doors, and even jump out of windows because of their fear of noise. Outside is worse–a dog that is normally fine in a fenced back yard or on a chain( if you have your dog on a chain–shame on you!), may, in their panic, become entangled in the chain-risking injury or death- or may escape from the yard in an attempt to get away from the noise.
  • Create a den like area where your dog feels safe.  If she is crate trained, that may be a calm refuge.  If she is not crate trained, NOW IS NOT THE TIME to pen her up in a crate–it could lead to self destructive behavior.
  • If you know that your dog has a serious reaction to loud noises, consider contacting your veterinarian for a mild sedative for your dog.

patrioticdogsHere are some hints for the day of:

  • If you are going to a fireworks display, a parade, or will be spending the day with friends at a picnic, leave your dog at home.  She doesn’t need the additional stress of  an unfamiliar place, new people and lots of excitement on top of the noise.  If you leave her in a familiar place, she will be much happier.
    • Before you leave, spend some one-on one time with your pet.  A long walk or a game of fetch will allow your dog a chance to burn off some energy so she’ll have less energy available for a “panic attack”.
    • You might consider a nice doggie massage before you leave to place her a calm state of mind.
    • Try some calming aromatherapy scents–lavender, juniper, and chamomile–are good choices.
    • Add some carbohydrates (some plain cooked potato or rice)  to her regular meal–it will help her feel fuller and sleepier than usual.
    • Be sure she has had the opportunity to “do her business” outside.
    • Leave a TV or radio on  (fairly loud) and keep the windows and curtains closed.  If possible, turn on all the lights–that way there is less chance of her noticing something is happening outside.
    • Keep her occupied with a special treat–a KONG toy filled with goodies (my dogs like peanut butter or cheese), a rawhide, a brand new toy or a treat (ideally a long lasting, tasty one!).
  • If you are going to leave your dog outside while you are out and about, try some of the hints above.  Additionally, cover her dog house with a blanket to shield her from the bright lights and some of the noise.
  • If you take your pet with you to the day’s activities– never, never, NEVER leave your dog in the car!  In a few short minutes, your pet (just like a child) can suffer serious health effects and can even DIE if left in a car.  Open windows do not provide enough cool air, but they do provide an opportunity for your pet to be stolen.  You made the decision to take your pet with you for the day.  You are responsible for her safety and comfort.  (I told you to leave her at home….)
  • If you will be at home with your pet, try to stay in the same room to monitor any reactions that may arise.  In all probability, it will be just another night at home with your best friend.  If you notice your dog is becoming stressed, distract your pet with a low-key game of fetch or some other dog friendly activity.  A bully stick or a brand new bone are great distractions.    Above all, don’t “baby” her.  Instead, be cheerful and in control.  NEVER punish your dog for being anxious.  It will only add to the problem.

By following a few simple steps you can make the 4th of July a much more enjoyable experience for you and your dog.  It’s a great holiday!  It should be enjoyed by everyone–even our pets!

May you have a safe and happy 4th of July!

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