POP! SIZZLE! The fourth of July is often a holiday in the United States that means outdoor pool time, barbecues, and of course big displays of fireworks. But for our dogs, the loud noise that comes with this special day can bring about a lot of stress. As caregivers to our dogs, our goal is always to support them and help reduce as much discomfort as possible. In this blog, I want to share with you some ways that you can help reduce the stress and improve quiet time for your four-footed family this holiday.
Speak With Your Veterinary Team
Some dogs experience significant stress with loud noises. Signs like pacing, shaking, drooling, vocalizing, and hiding are signals that may require some assistance from your veterinary team. If your dog has previously exhibited significant behavioral changes around big thunderstorms or fireworks, it is a great idea to get in touch with your veterinary team sooner rather than later to talk about over the counter or pharmaceutical options to help your dog feel less stress.
Early Counter Conditioning
With enough time before the holiday, you can also use counter conditioning to change your dog’s emotional response to the sound. On YouTube or sound apps like Sound Proof Puppy Training you can find audio recordings of fireworks with which you can play easy, stress-free games with high value treats and play. One easy way is 10 treats a day. Grab your dog’s highest value treats and find a spot to sit with your dog. Turn the volume down on your phone low enough that your dog can hear the audio but doesn’t show any signs of stress (like lip licking, whale eye, flattened ears). Play the noise, press pause, and immediately feed. Keep the volume low until you notice your dog excited to play the game with alert and engaged body signals. After several mini training sessions under your dog’s belt, you will slowly be able to turn the volume up on your phone without any signs of stress. Move slowly, don’t be afraid to turn the volume back down, and let your dog set the pace! Over time, this pattern of listen and eat works to change how your dog feels about the noise, which helps eliminate stress that the noise can cause.
You can see this method demonstrated here with knocking and doorbells!
You may also find this video helpful, which demonstrates using play to help reduce stress response to noises.
Create A Safe Place Start observing your dog now. Are there certain places they go to rest quietly? Are there spaces they choose to escape for a little peace? This is their safe spot and we can work now to reinforce this space. If your dog doesn’t already have a go-to location to relax, you can work to create one! Quiet dark bedrooms with fans, and covered crates are common favorites for many dogs. You can begin working on relaxation in this space by practicing and rewarding a behavior like settling on a mat, and offering high value chews to build positive associations. This will help make it easier for your dog to relax in this space while the fireworks are going off. Begin settle on a mat training tutorial below.
On the 4th of July it is a great idea to head out and get some exercise early in the day. With an early alarm clock you and your dog can head out for a swim at the lake, a long line walk in the park, a nice hike in the woods, or even to the back yard for some splash time in the sprinkler with a new toy. Allowing your dog ample outlets to “be a dog” and let loose helps them burn off energy before all the human fun begins. (Check out this blog for more ideas). Exercising early not only helps you beat the heat, but also sets your dog up for easier relaxation later in the day.
Once the festivities begin, it is best to help promote relaxation. Closing windows and blinds can help reduce visual stimulation or triggers that may cause stress. Turning on fans and playing calm classical music like Through A Dog’s Ear can help reduce external noises that may be stressful like kids screaming and fireworks. Over the counter products like CBD chews, Vetriscience Composure Chews, and Adaptil Pheromone collar or spray for bedding have also been shown to promote calmness. While food enrichment is often in our client’s toolbox, it is especially important on days of increased stress to offer chews or stuffed food puzzles to provide outlets for licking and chewing, which can also reduce stress and promote calmness.
Set up Home Safe Guards
If you are planning on having friends or family over, setting up additional management can be very helpful. While as a dog-owner you may be careful to close the door and watch the dog, guests may not be as intune to your dog’s behavior and it may leave an opportunity for your dog to sneak out and become lost. Double barriers are often a great idea as well as assigning an adult to supervise kids (when applicable) and one to supervise the dog. Once noisier activity begins, we recommend putting the dog away for a nap with a double barrier system. An x-pen inside a closed office upstairs, a crate and closed bedroom door, or even a closed bedroom door with a baby gate in the hallway. If your closed dog door is close to the bathroom you can even put a sign on the door like “dog inside, keep door closed” to help prevent accidents. While double barriers may seem unnecessary, management does fail and accidents happen especially when kids are around or alcohol is involved.
Generally in the home, my own dogs are kept without equipment. Additional collars, tags, and harnesses can damage a dog’s coat, cause discomfort, and can even get caught on household items like crates or furniture and result in harm. However, with a holiday that can create anxiety and even lead to a lost dog, collars with proper identification tags in case of emergencies can help get you and your dog reunited. This is also a great time to check to see if your dog’s microchip information is up to date. You can take your dog to your veterinary team for a microchip scan and speak with them or your microchip handler about up to date addresses and phone numbers. While this holiday is lots of fun for people, it can create unnecessary stress for our dogs. By planning ahead of time with training and veterinary appointments and by setting your dog up for success on the day, you can help improve your dog’s overall stress level.