Dog & Puppy Training Tips For Independence Day
Dogs are social creatures that benefit from being included in family activities. However, if a dog is afraid of fireworks, Independence Day can be a terrifying experience for them.
For these dogs, their fear response is so intense that their primal flight or fight response is triggered by the vivid sights and sounds of a fireworks display, and the resulting adrenaline rush prompts them to "run for the hills" to get as far away from the scary event as possible. This is why so many dogs turn into escape artists and go missing over the 4th of July!
To ensure the holiday doesn't turn into a traumatic experience for both you and your dog, it's important to have a plan for keeping your dog safe and comfortable when the fireworks go off that includes safeguarding your home to prevent them from running off.
Here’s how to test the waters and what to do to get your dog ready for Independence Day:
Play An Audio Recording Of Fireworks For Your Dog Or Puppy At Low Volume
If you just adopted a puppy or a rescue dog, you may not know what to expect from them when they hear something as intense as pyrotechnics.
Start out by playing the video at low volume and then slowly turn the volume up to gauge what intensity of pyrotechnic sounds your dog can handle.
If they seem curious or don't seem to care at all, that's a good sign! They may fare well during a fireworks display as you long as you plan to keep them on a leash and close by.
However, if they respond fearfully with ears pinned back and a tucked tail between their legs - possibly running off to hide somewhere - they may not be ready for a full-on fireworks display just yet.
For these dogs, it’s best to keep them indoors in a safe, contained space when the fireworks go off to ensure the experience does not overwhelm them and, possibly, scar them for life. Yes! fireworks are often the scariest thing a dog will encounter in their whole entire life and can become a phobia for your dog or puppy if you are not careful to moderate their first exposure to them.
Create A Safe Space Indoors For Your Dog Or Puppy
If your dog has already had an intensely fearful response to fireworks in the past, you may have already witnessed just how traumatic the event can be for them. Your dog may have cowered under a bed or in a closet, shivering and, perhaps, even drooling uncontrollably the whole time.
For these dogs, it's important to find a way to create a safe space in which to contain them indoors and lower the intensity of the experience for them as much as possible in the following ways:
Create a den-like space for them in which to stay like a crate covered in blankets or a bed tucked inside a closet to help to reduce the intensity of the day's celebrations.
Play white noise to drown out the noise of the fireworks. 10-hour white noise recordings can be found on YouTube and white noise machines can be bought from a variety of retailers.
Provide your dog with the highest value treats you can think of while the fireworks are going off like real meat leftovers or something spreadable like liverwurst or cream cheese stuffed in a kong.
The act of chewing releases dopamine into your dog’s bloodstream and helps them to relax. Giving them something to chew on like a cooked marrow bone or a digestible chew like a rawhide stick will go along to relieve their stress and keep them entertained and calm. However, as a rule of thumb, don't leave your dog unattended when they are given something digestible to chew on, and something like rawhide is best served after a meal so that the skin can be digested along with the food in your dog's stomach.
Stay With Your Dog Indoors When The Fireworks Go Off
If you have a new or fearful dog, the best thing you can do to help them feel safe is to stay with them indoors when the fireworks go off.
Additionally, feeding them high-value treats during this time is the fastest way to calm them down and assure them that nothing bad is happening.
Alternately, providing them with something to chew on while you stay nearby and give them a massage is also another great way to keep them calm and feeling secure while all the craziness outside is happening.
Food is the fastest, most effective way to create positive associations with anything potentially scary to your dog, most especially the sound of fireworks, and massage - not petting, but actual massage where you prompt your dog's relaxation response - can go a long way towards helping your dog get and stay calm.
Safeguard Your Home And Yard To Prevent Your Dog Or Puppy From Escaping
If your dog does receive an adrenaline burst from hearing a fireworks display, it may prompt them to turn into an escape artist that can suddenly scale a high fence or decide to jump out an open window. They may even try to break through a screen door in order to hightail it away from the danger they are sensing.
Make sure all potential escape routes are blocked off by shutting windows and doors including those that have screens, check that all fence gates are locked, and make sure to have your dog or puppy on a leash if you plan to bring them outside with you.
Training A Dog Or Puppy To Get Used To Fireworks:
If you eventually want your dog or puppy to join you for the celebrations, there ARE ways that you can fully prepare your furry companion for the experience, if you plan ahead.
Behavior Modification Training (BMT) uses desensitization and counter-conditioning to help your dog or puppy get habituated to the sights and sounds of fireworks.
Desensitization is a training principle that involves finding the tolerable intensity for a dog or pup to experience a stimulus and not react to it, also known as your dog’s threshold. Counter-conditioning generally involves pairing food with a stimulus in order to change the way your dog or pup feels about it, and that's how the high-value food rewards come into play.
Simply find a recording of fireworks and play it at low-volume, at first, to determine when your dog or puppy becomes aware of the sounds, but does not react to them (also known as training your dog “sub-threshold”), and then feed your dog high-value food rewards like real meat leftovers, cheese, or hot dogs to lay the groundwork for creating positive associations with what they are hearing.
Work day-by-day, and week-by-week, to slowly turn the volume up until you can play fireworks at full volume and your dog or puppy does not react to the recording. Once you've achieved this, you are ready to try bringing your furry friend with you to experience 4th of July to the fullest!
Los Angeles dog trainer Alexandra Bassett is the owner and lead trainer at Dog Savvy Los Angeles, a dog & puppy training company that specializes in positive dog training and solving problem dog behavior like dog separation anxiety, leash reactivity, and aggression. She is certified as Knowledge Assessed by the Council of Professional Dog Trainers (CPDT-KA) and is available for online dog training sessions via Skype.