While you celebrate your independence, remember these tips to keep your dog safely confined for the fireworks.
Sean Knudsen, Trainer
Innovative K9 Academy
My girl, Kimora, is a border collie German shepherd mix. She is one of the sweetest and most well-trained dogs in the state of Utah. She is fabulous. I can heel off-leash through crowds of people at festivals, ball games or almost any other environment with distractions. She will retrieve any item, perform multiple positions on command and down stay for as long as I want her to stay there.
This dog is truly amazing, but at the first sound of a firecracker, or even just the little poppers you throw to the ground, she completely shuts down. She panics, runs and hides under whatever she can find and in the house she will hide under the bed. We have to search throughout the house to find her. If she were left outside with nowhere to hide I shudder to think what she would do to try and get away.
Dogs in this situation are not just insecure or uncomfortable—they are completely terrified, they believe they are going to die. They will scratch through doors or fences until they are bloody, ripping out claws and cutting open paws. Once they finally get a hole through it, they will fight though it, possibly getting stuck and causing more bodily damage. If they get out of the fence they will run and keep running through multiple neighborhoods. With every new explosion the dog moves faster and panics more. Pretty soon the dog will have no idea where it is and hide out somewhere for the night. The next day animal control is working overtime collecting displaced dogs all over the city and filling up the shelters.
Please do not let this happen to your beloved family member, here are some tips to prevent this from happening:
- First of all, keep them safely confined; you should never leave them outside unattended for very long at all, but especially when there are fireworks. The dog should be in a room where they are least likely to be able to hear the explosions, like a basement room away from the street. Play some music on the radio loud enough to cover the sounds that may leak through. You can also help distract the dog with chew toys or a Kong toy with peanut butter inside it.
- Thundershirt: This is a product that is a mix between a shirt and vest that the dog will wear. The idea is that it applies consistent and even pressure over the entire surface of the vest and can have a calming and reassuring effect on a dog. It is like swaddling a baby in a blanket. This has been effective on some dogs.
- Do not coddle your dog: If you see your dog becoming anxious, putting its tail between its legs, ears back, head down, urination, excessive slobbering or any other sign of stress and anxiety, do not pet or talk sweetly to the dog to try to reassure them. What you are unintentionally doing is teaching the dog to act out and become anxious. While training, we use affection and sweet talk as a positive reinforcement to get the dog to continue whatever behavior it is doing that we like. You are doing the same thing and teaching the dog to be anxious and afraid.
- Desensitization: It is too late for this year but, if you want to get ready for next year, it is a great idea to desensitize your dog to the sights and sounds of the firework display. Start with your dog in a comfortable, familiar location like your living room. Start with the sounds of fireworks on your phone or computer with the volume down. Use food or toys to get the dog to focus on you and ignore the sounds. As the dog gets more and more comfortable, continually increase the volume of the sounds. Now put it on a big screen, if you have one, and do it at night with the lights down so the dog gets the effects of the lights too. You can now move on to something more realistic like popping balloons, but start from a distance like across the park. Engage your dog with obedience using treats and toys as rewards. As the dog gets better and better at ignoring the pops, move closer and closer. When the holiday fireworks begin, do this same process over again. Start at a distance, using rewards for the dog doing obedience and get closer and closer to the fireworks. If the dog reacts at all move further away and start again.
- Please make sure you have up-to-date tags on your dogs collars as well as a microchip if possible. This will make it much easier to get your dog home safely if he/she does end up missing. When you take your dog outside on a walk, to go potty, or play please make sure you have them on a leash so they can’t get spooked and run off.
Here at Innovative K9 Academy we are very grateful for our freedoms and the opportunity that we have to be allowed to pursue our dreams. Please enjoy your holidays and make sure that your dogs are safe and happy as well.