With the Fourth of July upon us, what is your recommendation for managing my anxious dog while the fireworks are going off?
The noise pollution that accompanies this holiday can be tough on several species of pets, especially some dogs. You may have witnessed the following behaviors from your pet during fireworks: trembling, shaking, bulging eyes, pacing, etc. It is a very sad sight, and often the poor pooch is inconsolable.
Here are some suggestions for making any anticipated noisy event more tolerable for your pet:
- Make sure you are acting calm yourself. Dogs will often feed off of your emotional state. If you act calm and talk calmly to your dog you will reinforce the fact that the situation does not call for alarm.
- Make negative experiences (fireworks, thunderstorms, etc) a positive experience by reinforcing with tasty treats and lots of praise and reassurance. This works best when started as a puppy, but can sometimes work even if your dog is already an adult.
- Progressive desensitization. Expose your pet to recordings of thunder or fireworks (or any other noise that triggers a stress response) and start at a volume that is below your dog’s fear threshold. Over the following day to weeks, slowly increase the volume. Use the first two tips listed above for positive reinforcement. This is a lengthy process and needs to be done well in advance of the stressful situation. It takes careful planning and monitoring in order to work properly. A veterinary behaviorist can work with you to come up with a plan that is tailored to your pet.
- Applying pressure on the bridge of a dog’s nose and/or behind their ears can simulate what a female dog does to her puppies to calm them down. This can be most easily mimicked using a head collar called the “Gentle Leader.” It fits around the nose and behind the ears. This collar was designed to be used as a training collar, but it can be of benefit as a comforting device for some dogs during storms or fireworks.
- Provide a hiding area near your pet’s favorite sleeping area. An unzipped sleeping bag works well by providing a place to burrow and hide. If the sleeping bag has your scent, it will likely provide even more comfort.
- Keep your pet indoors in the quietest, most sound-proof area of the house. Ensure that the room is injury-proofed and chew-proofed. Close the curtains and windows to muffle the sounds. Turning on a TV or radio may also help to cover fear-inducing noises. Alternatively, consider boarding your pet at a kennel, away from the main commotion.
- Finally, consult with a veterinarian about potential medical options to calm your pet.
All of these tips need to planned and employed before the stressful event occurs. It is much easier to prevent stress than to resolve it once your pet is already wound up.
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