What To Do If You Dog Fears Fireworks
Several of my clients have asked me this week what they should do about their firework-phobic dogs this holiday weekend. I thought I would share some trainer tips on how to deal with this issue without having to resort to doggy xanax (always a last resort in my book).
1. Exercise. It's always the first place to start. Make sure your dog is totally pooped by the time the sky starts lighting up. Take a super long walk or run, have a rowdy play session, and finish it off with some structured (but fun!) training, and you will have a dog that is satisfyingly tired - physically and mentally. A tired dog will have far less energy bottled up to direct into fearful or anxious behaviors.
2. Block visual cues. Visual stimulation is highly triggering for dogs, so when we take that element away, it can go a long way in helping the dog calm down. If your dog is fearful around fireworks, by all means, keep her inside and close the curtains. If your dog is comfortable and happy in her kennel, this would be a great place for her at this time. Many dogs feel safer in a small enclosure when they are frightened. A calming cap could also be a helpful tool if you are not able to block visual stimuli.
3. Desensitization. This is by far the best remedy for a fearful dog, and will also be the most permanent, but it does take time and persistance. Desensitizing your dog to the sound of fireworks (or any other auditory stimuli) will help your dog overcome her fear by changing her mental state when in the presence of fireworks from panicked to calm. Essentially, this involves creating a positive mental association to the sound.
4. Sound Therapy. Check out this great tool, Through a Dog's Ears, which has been designed specifically for the purpose of calming dogs in stressful situations. This would be great to play during a fireworks show or a thunderstorm. Just be sure to turn the cue on first, meaning create an active association in the dog's mind. Play the music well before the scary event has begun. I would suggest playing it for 20-30 minutes per day a few days before the holiday when your dog is calm and relaxed. Pet her and give her treats and calm affection during each session so that she associates the music with a calm and peaceful state of mind.
5. Mind Games. Keeping your dog mentally active (i.e. thinking vs. reacting) can go a long way in resolving fear and anxiety. She just needs something else to focus on other than her panic! Leave smart toys or stuffed kongs for her to play with. If she has run of the house, or even just a room, hide treats for her to sniff out and find.
Hopefully these tips will help you and your dog make the best of this 4th of July weekend. If you have any questions about dog training or behavior modification, or would like to consult with a dog trainer, please contact K9 Holistics for further information. Thanks and have a safe and happy holiday!
Christine Fasan is the head trainer and canine behaviorist for K9 Holistics. She specializes in German Shepherd Dogs and healing reactivity in dogs of all breeds. K9 Holistics offers dog training and behavior modification in St. Petersburg and throughout Pinellas County. We also offer pet care services including dog walking and pet sitting. Please contact Christine at firstname.lastname@example.org