Fireworks and Dogs

The 4th of July is fun and exciting for so many of us. Getting together with friends and family, being outdoors, enjoying the weather, and of course FIREWORKS. But for some of our 4 legged family members this may not be as exciting. All the things we enjoy about the holiday are also what causes some of our dogs extreme discomfort.

Groups

Large groups of people can be nerve-racking for some dogs because they may be nervous in crowds. The reason is every new person will want to pet your dog, and if your dog is small some people will try to pick them up. Keep in mind that cute dogs have it worse. The best way to fix these issues is to control the people when you have your dog with you.

So how would you control strangers? Politely saying ‘NO, my dog is in training at the moment but thank you’ when they ask to pet your dog. Your dog will witness you controlling these people and start to trust you more as a leader and may even start to trust strangers more. If you have a rescue dog and are unsure of its past, then start with small gatherings. Go to places were there is a great deal of chaos but can still be controlled like outside a playground or a dog park. Or even a quick walk around PetSmart. You would be amazed what the exposure could do for nervous tendencies.

Start small, take your time, and have large goals.

Fireworks

We all enjoy fireworks, but this can be one of the most fear inducing thing some dogs experience. When I was young my grandmother’s poodle Tiny would get so scared from the sound of fireworks that she would have seizures. This was a yearly thing that she prepared for. I remember wondering what could help her because of how sad the situation was. But there is only so much I could do as a child. I remember one night during the holiday my grandmother’s poodle sat on my lap and we watched the Disney Land fireworks show that was televised. She did not have a seizure. She just laid there.

It wasn’t until many years later I had a client that had the same issue. They didn’t know what to do. I was there for possessive reactivity and during the appointment FIREWORKS came up. That’s when the memory hit me. How Tiny just laid there on my lap and did nothing during the Fireworks on the television. But this was different. This family had a very good sound system and HD plasma screen with internet capability.

How to start exposure

I suggested taking advantage of all this equipment and we turned it on to see what would happen with the bass turned all the way to 11. Buster started to have the same anxiety that he would normally have during the 4th of July. We then muted the sound and played with him. When the play was at its peak, we un-muted it and the sound came back with a large explosion. Buster had a very small reaction but was still interested in the play. We then ended it.

They continued with this practice once a week for 7 weeks an hour at a time until the 4th, and to all of our surprise he did not react. In fact, he wanted to play when the kids were outside lighting off bottle rockets. Since then this is what I suggest to all who run into this problem. If you have a puppy, this is a great way to introduce them to that situation if you ever wanted to bring them with to a fireworks show. And if you practiced it correctly and took advantage of the tech we have now this is an awesome passive training tactic for the dog who may have never seen them or is already nervous.

Slow, calm, controlled exposure can fix almost any issue. Keeping in mind the dog’s mindset and yours. You must lead with calm confidence in order to overcome their habit.

Stay Calm, Stay Confident, Stay in Control.

Justin Cournoyea
Training Manager – Oneka Pet Resort

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