The Fourth of July is almost in sight. For many people it is a time of joy and celebration, but for our dogs it can be a frightening and stressful experience. Check out these tips to help prepare your dog for Independence Day.
-Prepare ahead of time using sound desensitization CDs. There are a number of noise desensitization CDs on the market now. These CDs are designed to help your dog get used to sounds that may frighten them. To avoid making your dog more fearful, the CD should be played at low level first, and then gradually increased to normal volume as long as your dog remains calm. Here is a link to one such product, however doing an internet search for "fireworks sound desensitization CD" will come up with several more.
-Keep you dog indoors, and make sure all windows and doors are closed and covered. Please do not leave your dog outdoors during the Fourth of July. The noise from the fireworks is going to be much louder and frightening outside. Numerous dogs have jumped fences and broken leads attempting to escape from the fireworks. Be sure that doors and windows are secured inside as well, as many dogs have been known to go through screens out of fear. Turning on the radio or television may help to drown out some of the outside noise.
-Give your pet a safe place to retreat to away from all the noise. Create a safe place for your dog using his bed or crate, and be sure he has access to it at all times. If you know of a certain place your dog likes to retreat to when he is frightened, such as a certain room or under the covers, allow him to hide out there during the event.Supply him with chew toys or hollow treat filled toys(such as a Kong) to help occupy him.
-Be sure your dog is wearing proper identification in case of escape. A large number of dogs end up in shelters after escaping from their homes on the Fourth of July. Double check that your dog is wearing a collar and identification tags, and that the information and phone number is current. Permanent identification such as a microchip may also be a good idea.
-Avoid bringing your dog along with you to events. Although you may like the idea of bringing your dog along as company to a Fourth of July event, it is unlikely that he is going to find the same enjoyment. Even the most well socialized and trained dogs will almost certainly be overwhelmed by the commotion, noise, and crowds. If you must go out for the Fourth, please leave your dog at home.
-If possible, stay home with your dog. Ideally, it is best to be able to stay with your dog during the worst of the fireworks. This way you can keep an eye on your dog and comfort him throughout. Have some extremely tasty treats available, or a favorite toy to help distract your dog from all the noise outside. Many trainers recommend that you do not comfort your dog when he is behaving fearfully, as this will supposed reinforce the fearful behavior. However, new research indicates that it is unlikely that you can reinforce emotions in this way, and in fact calmly comforting your dog may help to make him feel safer. For more information on reinforcing fears check out these articles by Patricia McConnell, a certified applied animal behaviorist.
-Calm your dog using natural remedies. There are several products on the market right now that can help calm your dog in frightening situations. Here are just a few:
- Melatonin- According to melatonin.com; "melatonin is a hormone produced naturally in the pineal gland at the base of the brain." Melatonin is often used in humans as a sleep aid, however it has been found to be effective for many cases of noise phobia in dogs. The product can be purchased over the counter. Be sure to check with your veterinarian first for proper dosage and administration.
- DAP- Also known as "dog appeasing pheromone" DAP is a product developed by veterinarians that supposedly mimics the pheromones given off by a lactating female. Studies have shown that the product can help some dogs in relieving stress and feeling calmer. It can come as a plug-in diffuser, a spray bottle or a collar.
- Anxiety Wrap- This product wraps around the body of a dog. By using a technique called "maintained pressure" the wrap aids in reducing anxiety and helping your dog feel calm. Visit the official website here.
- Calming Collars- These collars are filled with natural herbs and are designed to reduce stress. Recently Nan Arthur, the San Diego Pet Behavior and Training Examiner wrote an excellent article on the Calming Collars. You can read it here.
- Rescue Remedy- Made up of natural flower essences, Rescue remedy is a liquid that is given by mouth or rubbed directly on your dog's nose, ears, or paw pads. For many dogs it can help reduce the feelings of stress and anxiety. Visit the Rescue Remedy Pet website for more information.
-Use medication for severe phobias. If you know your dog has very bad noise phobias, you may want to consider using medication to help with his fears. Your veterinarian will be able to supply you with a proper drug to treat your dog's anxiety.
A word of caution; many veterinarians still prescribe a drug called acepromazine for noise phobias. Karen Overall, a well known veterinary behaviorist, has this to say about the drug in her article on treating storm phobias:
I know that the common "treatment" for storm and noise phobias and veterinary office visits is acepromazine. In truth, I wish this medication would be placed at the far back of a top shelf and used only exceptionally. Acepromazine is a dissociative anesthetic meaning that it scrambles perceptions. Ask yourself if a scrambling of perceptions will make an anxious or uncertain dog worse or better. It's always worse, and we make many if not most dogs more sensitive to storms by using this drug. In part this is also because sensitivity to noise is heightened.
A better alternative may be to use a medication called Alprazolam, also known as Xanax.