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6 Tips to Help Your Dog Survive This 4th of July

Don't wait until the first firework explodes before you think to check on your dog. Here are six tips to keep her comfortable and safe.

 |  Jul 3rd 2014  |   0 Contributions


I love the majesty of thunderstorms and fireworks. However, my adopted Weimaraner was terrified of them. She would cower and shake in the corner until well after the storm or display subsided. I would lie next to her and hold her, stroking her until the ordeal was over. That meant I often didn’t get to enjoy the storm or fireworks myself, but that didn’t matter as long as I had the opportunity to comfort my dog.

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I work with big and small dogs, helping them to overcome their fears.

Offering her the most delectable rewards didn’t make a difference when she was in that state of fear. To understand why, imagine someone points a gun at your head: Would you be tempted to take a bite of your favorite food? 

Loud noises, thunderstorms, natural disasters, and events such as fireworks on the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve tend to scare dogs (and people). These stimuli are typically loud, scary, novel, and not part of your dog's everyday life. Dogs don't get a chance to become desensitized or habituated to these stimuli -- most of them have not been exposed to these aversives during their critical developmental period at the age of roughly 3 to 13 weeks, in order for them to more easily make a positive association and to be comfortable with these aversives.   

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Your dog isn't happy about all those bangs and whizzes.

For the Fourth of July holiday and other potential scary events, these are some of the things I recommend to comfort my dog and to prepare for the event: 

1. Make sure your contact details are current

You don't expect your dog to escape, but dog tags fall off or are taken off. Too often, guardians forget to update all of this information and the microchip becomes useless when you need it the most. Make sure your microchip company has the correct name, address, phone number, and email address for you on file.

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Do you have your new phone number on your dog's collar, and is his microchip updated?

In the event that your pet escapes, it is wise to have current photos of your pets (together, by themselves, and with you, in digital and physical copies) and descriptions; include detailed markings of your pets, which are very important to rescuers to identify and bring your pet back safe and sound. These will serve as proof that you are your pet’s guardian.

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Don't assume your dog is as happy about the holiday as you are. Bulldog puppy with flag by Shutterstock

2. Teach your dog to calmly react to unwanted stimuli 

I realize the July 4 holiday is just around the corner, but it's a good idea to work with a certified dog behavior consultant (CDBC) on behavior modification, desensitization, and counterconditioning to help your dog adjust to unwanted stimuli in a slow and gradual manner. It may be too late for this year, but another holiday with fireworks will come soon enough. 

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Yorkie listens to music by Shutterstock

3. Create a soothing home environment

Close the blinds, dim the lights, block windows, and drown out external noises with soothing music. Through a Dog's Ear specializes in musical therapy for dogs and offers CDs of canine classical music. Note that the rhythm, pitch, and tone of your voice can also rile up or settle down your pup in no time, so speak soothingly to her and project calm. 

Move your dog’s crate (assuming she loves her crate), toys, and bedding to an appropriate safe zone -- she may even choose this herself. Put a lightly worn article of clothing or towel in the crate or your dog’s preferred spot to reassure her with your scent. 

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Jane Goodall and I share a tug toy. (Photo courtesy Russell Hartstein)

4. Shop for dog-focused calming products

D.A.P. (dog-appeasing pheromone) comes in sprays, diffusers and collars; try the products Adaptil and Comfort Zone. You can also try anxiety vests like Storm Defender, ThunderShirt, and The Anxiety Wrap. Also, lavender chamomile and other calming essential oils tend to have soothing effects on dogs, just as they do on people. 

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Dogster trainer Annie Phenix says her thunder-phobic Border Collie, Echo, is helped enormously by her Thundershirt.

4. Keep up the regular training and exercise

This week is particularly important in the buildup to the holiday weekend. While regular dog training, enrichment, and exercise are vital to your pet's well-being, they are particularly important before a potential scary event, so that your dog will be tired and fulfilled mentally and physically, which will help her settle down and relax. Use food-dispensing toys like Kongs or puzzle toys for all meals and treats, to exercise your dog during mealtimes.

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Kong toys are a great way to feed your dog and distract her. (Photo by Ace's Mama.)

5. Offer only the very best treats

Now is not the time to be parsimonious with your pet! Stay away from the kibble and dry dog biscuits and break out your dog’s favorite high-value rewards (typically human food, meats, and cheeses). Remember your dog is unique, and it is incumbent upon a pet parent to learn your dog’s hierarchy of rewards to speed up learning. 

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This is not the time to skimp on treats for your dog. Haute Cuisine by Shutterstock.

6. Give your dog a taste of the big day

On the Fourth, it's best to not leave your dog alone or bring her to the fireworks display or scary event -- it's important to take care of your dog during this potentially traumatic experience. Also, never scold or punish your dog for being afraid.

You may still have time for mock trials, however, if you plan on going out. If you're taking your dog, go with her to where the celebration you're attending may take place. At home, dim the lights and stay up late, and pretend you're having a party. Get her used to hearing noise at night. 

Remember: The best results come from a combination of the above. They make not make your dog love fireworks, but they could become less dreadful!

Read more about dogs and the Fourth:

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About the author: Russell Hartstein, a pet expert, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, and Certified Professional Dog Trainer in Miami, is the CEO (canine executive officer) and founder of Fun Paw Care, which specializes in dog training and behavior, dog boarding, pet sitting, and dog walking. He likes to blog about dog training and behavior issues and nonhuman animal rights.

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