Those of us who enjoy the Fourth of July with all of its fun, food and fireworks can often forget that this can be the absolute worst day of a dog's life every year. The intensity of Piccolo Petes, crackling showers of sparks, sudden pops and cracks can send some dogs completely berserk! So, how do we deal with these unfortunate pets while the works are firing?
There are at least three ways of dealing with anxious dogs which we will outline below:
First, avoid reinforcing anxious behavior with coddling, petting, while the dog is exhibiting signs of fear. Rather, try distracting the dog with toys, games, treats, etc. so the dog can be rewarded for calm behavior. You may consider taking the dog to a quieter part of the house, for a walk to a quieter neighborhood or even a drive out of town away from the noise. Try to reward ONLY calm behavior.
Second, before the need arises, try using counter-conditioning methods such as playing recordings of pyrotechnics at low volume levels, below the dog's point of anxiety, and gradually increase the volume/intensity over several sessions, giving treats to reward calm behavior. Watch for signs of anxiety from the dog such as yawning, licking the lips, pacing, restlessness and of course, vocalizations such as barking, whining, etc. Back off on the intensity until he/she calms down and then start again, gradually pushing the envelope higher.
Thirdly, sedating medications can be given, but must not be viewed as a shortcut, but rather as an effective means of helping the foregoing methods succeed better. A calm dog can learn much better than a frantic one. Much like medications to combat motion sickness, waiting until you need it is too late. Try to anticipate the days and times that the fireworks will be going off and have the dog dosed at least 1-2 hours earlier. Refer back to the tips given earlier in this article for ways to help train the dog to be less anxious.
As always, if you have any questions, do not hesitate to call our office at 503-646-6101