If your dog is afraid of fireworks, one of your least favorite times of year is coming up. There is some time left to get your plan in place for dealing with the Fourth of July noises.
Isn’t it a bit odd that two holidays that bring so much enjoyment to so many are dreaded by some dog owners? The Fourth of July and Halloween are particularly difficult days for those of us with high-stress dogs. Particularly if your dog is sensitive to noise.
Training tips to start now
Over decades of dog ownership, we’ve had some that couldn’t care less about outside noises, and others who would react strongly. We’ve even had one that was inconsolable on noisy holidays. Back in the day we wound up hiding in the basement with her with the television or radio volume turned all the way up.
That’s actually not a bad idea. If the dog is escalating into panic, whatever you can do to remove him/her from the source is a good idea. If you don’t have a basement, any inside room will help. Forget all about sticking to a regular, routine schedule. While dogs love routine and it can be calming, if the dog is panicking, do not take him/her outside, even if it’s time for a regular walk. More dogs are lost on the Fourth of July than any other holiday. A sudden noise that neither of you is expecting can cause the dog to react violently, break your hold on the leash, and go running in fear. It’s better to clean up a mess than have to go searching for a lost, frightened dog.
If your dog is a pandemic pup, chances are this is the first “normal” noisy holiday in his/her experience. There’s still time to play some training games to accustom your dog to the sounds.
Find a video recording of a fireworks display and play it while your dog is doing something fun, like going for a walk, playing fetch, or even eating a meal. Start with the recording very soft, and gradually increase the sound over a few days. It’s not the same as a “live” show, but it will allow your dog to hear what explosions sound like before the actual day.
If your dog startles at the sound, say her name and when she looks at you, give her a treat and just keep doing whatever you were doing. She’ll learn to “check in” with you when something odd happens. She may even come to associate the weird noise with getting a treat, and the fear will dissipate.
Stay calm yourself
Dogs are always watching their people and taking cues from them. Fran tends to startle at sudden noises. Her dogs do, too. It’s a momentary reaction, so the dogs settle right away, seeing that everything’s okay.
The worst thing you can do is console the dog for being scared. Saying “oh, poor baby!,” “It’s okay, I’m here,” or any comforting phrase in a sympathetic tone is counter-productive. If you give the noise attention, your dog will, too. If it concerns you, your dog will think he/she should be worried, too. Instead, if you’re startled, just go back to whatever you were doing before. Say “never mind” in a matter-of-fact voice. And mean it!
Your dog may never love the Fourth of July. But, with a little “practice” at fireworks, it may not be the worst day of the year for your dog.