Well friends, it’s that time of year again - hot dogs on the grill, cold beer in the cooler and a closet full of fireworks that could light up the entire skyline - the 4th of July is around the corner! We like to party and what better day to do so than Independence Day?! Yep, humans LOVE to celebrate. You know who doesn’t necessarily like to celebrate the way WE do though? Your cat - just kidding, we don’t know what your cat thinks! We definitely DO care what your dog thinks/feels though. Let’s talk about your dog and the 4th of July!
Let’s start with the bad news: 4th of July can be scary and confusing as hell to your dog. Did you know that more dogs are lost on July 4th than any other day of the year? All of the loud sounds can really frighten our dogs, so they’re more likely to run away, get lost, or injured. Even our dogs who are safely tucked away in their kennels can experience a lot of anxiety and fear, which as we know at BDB, can manifest in unwanted behaviors down the road.
There is however good news - we can set our dogs up to get through the holiday unscathed. We can even set our dogs up to be comfortable and happy during this holiday that they absolutely DO NOT understand.
First things first, you’ve got to start prepping your dog right away. Don’t wait until July 3rd and expect your dog to get it. Ideally, we are doing these types of exercises all year long. Our objective here is to desensitize our dogs. We want them to hear loud, sudden sounds and not think it’s a big deal -because it’s not!
First things first - increase your dog’s exercise drastically. Do a far longer walk than normal or use the treadmill for a much greater time. Take them on a bike ride or swimming until the body and mind are both totally drained. Now we can start the desensitization process.
Generally, when desensitizing our dogs to a certain form of stimulation, we use distance, in this case we use volume. We don’t want to start with actual fireworks. Using YouTube videos or sound effects through our home speakers works great. We want to find a volume and intensity that our dogs can be successful with. Once they have noticed that a sound at a certain level isn’t a big deal, then we can close the gap between our practice noise and the fireworks gradually over time.
We also want to use a leash so we can block their flight response (if they happen to have one). There are no corrections given! Simply blocking the brain (and the body) from choosing flight and asking it to come up with a different response.
If you hear a loud sound and panic or jump, your dog will learn that loud sounds are something to panic or jump about. If instead you don’t give the sound any power, your dog will see that it’s no big deal. So don’t freak out unless you want your dog to freak out. A good example is an ice machine dropping ice. Most dogs can hear that noise and not bat an eye, because most humans don’t respond to it. The key element is that your response dictates how your dog will feel about a sound.
Another technique is to keep our dogs busy. We want their brains to focus on something other than the loud noise. For example, using high-value food can allow the nose to control the brain rather than the ears. Or you can give the dog a job to concentrate on: treadmill time, a walk, tug, or fetch. Play the sounds in the background but give your dog a job to focus on so the brain hears the noise but doesn’t focus on it.
Play the sounds a lot. Take a Bluetooth speaker on your walk. Play the sounds while your dog is on the treadmill. Play the sounds while your dog practices staying in place. Do this several times a day, and as your dog gets used to it, start to increase the volume and the proximity of the sound source/speaker. Little by little your dog will get accustomed to the noise, and before you know it you’ll be blasting fireworks at a very realistic volume level and your dog won’t notice or care. More importantly, the Fourth of July will roll around and your dog won’t have any anxiety or fear. Then you can focus on rewatching the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. High-five!