There are two keys to keep your dog from becoming a July 4 statistic. The first key is prevention and management and the second is training.
Prevention and Management
Prevention and management means creating an environment that sets your dog up to not only be safe, but actually teaches her relax. Safety for your dog, you and your property are your primary concerns.
First and foremost, be extra careful and anticipate problems before they occur. Supervise your dog and keep her close, tethered to you if necessary. And it is imperative that she always wears her collar with some kind of identification just in case she does manage to escape. Never put an anxious, distressed dog in a crate or tie her to something and leave her there. She would likely injure herself while hysterically attempting to get free.
Here are some tips that may help if your dog reacts fearfully or is distressed by fireworks (or even thunderstorms):
￼Turn on the air conditioner and TV or radio to help create a room filled with familiar sounds. Often this can distract your dog or even help muffle the fireworks outside.
￼Provide extra exercise so your dog may have less energy to pay attention to the fireworks or even sleep through the displays.
￼Play your dog's favorite games with favorite toys. Do not soothingly reassure your dog when he or she acts fearful with words like “It's ok, don't worry.” If you coddle her when she is frightened, it can reinforce the fearful behavior. And if you act stressed, your dog will feel it. Be a good actor or actress. Keep a happy attitude around your dog and maintain her daily routines.
￼Leave the area. If things get really rough, put your dog in the car and go for a ride. I know families who plan a one or two day vacation around July 4th so they are away from fireworks.
￼Consult with your veterinarian. There are pharmacological aids that can be prescribed to help your dog get through the roughest time where fireworks are of greatest intensity.
￼Try holistic aids. There are herbal remedies as well as Bach Flower remedies that can help many dogs. Aromatherapy has also proved effective. In addition, massage for both you and your dog is a wonderful stress reliever.
Training builds confidence and trust. Your dog's increased confidence helps him relax in stressful situations and diminishes his fear. In severe cases, to help a dog overcome the fear of fireworks, it's best to consult a professional trainer who uses positive methods. If your dog exhibits a mild degree of anxiety, you can get started training immediately on your own.
You can go to group classes, read books and learn from DVDs like mine: The Dog Whisperer: Beginning and Intermediate Dog Training ( http://www.dogwhispererdvd.com
) or Train Your Dog , featuring Nicole Wilde (http://www.amazon.com
By practicing for two or three minutes, several times a day, a dog can learn all the basic behaviors. And then its just a matter of repetition and reinforcements to establish your role as leader and build your dog's trust. In time, you'll have a happy, relaxed and well-trained dog.
You probably remember learning about Pavlov‘s famous experiment in which he linked the sound of a bell with food, which caused dogs to salivate every time the bell rang. This is called classical or “associative” conditioning. One no-value thing, like the sound of a bell, is linked or “associated” with a highly valued thing like food. And the bell then becomes almost equal in value to the food.
The principal is the same when trying to change the way a frightened dog feels about fireworks. You use a form of classical conditioning to counter the way the dog feels about something he fears by very, very gradually helping him to be less fearful or “desensitized.” This is done by linking the sound of fireworks with food.
To get started, you can purchase a CD of fireworks sounds. (Hanaleipets offers one called Sound Sensibilities Fireworks, which is available online at http://www.hanaleipets.com
) Play the CD in an adjoining room at a barely audible level. If your dog begins to act fearful even with the sound set at this level, see if he will take a treat. If so, continue for about a minute then end the session. Follow these easy steps:
￼Start the CD just after you give your dog his breakfast or dinner and let it play while he is eating.
￼After a few sessions, play the CD a little louder while you feed him.
￼Continue to increase the volume slightly over many sessions. It may take several weeks and for some dogs, even months, to become comfortable with this sound. If he displays fearful behavior at any time while the CD is playing, STOP. Begin your next session at a lower volume--one that doesn't produce anxiety--and proceed more slowly.
If your dog doesn't take the treat, and you see that he is getting more anxious, stop. In cases like this, a professional trainer must show you what to do. NOTE: Never force your dog. Some people make the situation worse by punishing their frightened dog. A scared, fearful dog should never be yelled at or swatted with newspapers. These methods are cruel and do nothing to help your dog learn to relax.
There are some dogs that can never be desensitized or acclimated to fireworks. You can make the problem worse if you use these techniques with such a dog. That's why I must emphasize two things once again. It is very important that you have a professional trainer demonstrate how this desensitization is done and that you implement these techniques very gradually.
Most, but not all dogs can improve and learn to relax, or at least tolerate July 4th fireworks. Always err on the side of safety and be understanding and compassionate with your animal friends. Only you can help them overcome their fears.