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Fireworks, thunderstorms, and gunshots (if you live in the country like myself). What do they all have in common? They can be loud, sudden, and continue to make noise for an undetermined amount of time. What else do they have in common?
They can startle our dogs as often they are unaware of why or how these noises are happening. In today’s article, we are going to discuss how to prepare and manage your dog during these events. Since we usually have some warning signs before they happen or are aware of holidays that elicit the use of fireworks, we can properly prepare our dog and hopefully over time get them used to these sounds.
Loud and / or sudden noises can have a negative effect on your dog’s behavior. These could harbor or build upon existing insecurities / anxieties and cause bad behaviors. Before we get into what to do, let’s talk about what not to do.
What Not To Do When Your Dog Is Freaking Out During Fireworks
DO NOT reinforce less than confident displays of body language during these times. It’s natural for us as humans to want to go comfort our dog in times of duress. However, they do not communicate the same way that we do. My own personal dog prior to training would jump up in my chair and try to face the corner during thunderstorms.
So what did I do? Well, being the human that I am, I would go up to her and begin to pet her. Using that voice that we all do with dogs “oh it’s okay, it’s just thunder” & “you’re alright”. You know, because dogs speak English, right? Wrong. What I was doing however was reinforcing a less than confident mindset and helping her insecurities grow. Avoid reinforcing during these times and be aware of what your dog may be communicating to you through their body language.
There are a thousand answers out there for handling this type of situation. You have everything from CBD, doggy Xanax, anxiety crates, ear muffs, etc. However, most of these solutions do not address the problem but rather put a band-aid or a temporary solution on it. Only by addressing and working through these mindsets can we begin to rehabilitate or even just sensitize our dogs to the occurrence where they don’t react.
Basically what that means is they are exposed to it so much that they accept it as normal or learn that there is no occurrence after these noises therefore they aren’t important. The occasional startle is to be expected as loud cracks of thunder or the $400 mortar system my neighbor bought for the fourth of July can surprise myself as well.
How To Prepare Your Dog For Fireworks
Depending on your level of training or what your dog may be capable of – we can effectively prepare our dog in a few ways.
Safety and Calming Tip #1: Exercise Your Dog
Provide some physical stimulation through exercise prior to a probable evening for fireworks. Go further than you normally would on your walk / run just to try and cap off their energy levels as much as possible.
A tired pup may not care for the loud & sudden noises but would rather snooze through it. This means proper exercise not a lap around the block with your dog trying to pull you all over the place. As we have mentioned before, constant tension from your dog pulling can create or build upon bad behaviors.
If your dog will fetch or tug, then a good play session prior to the evening will help with the energy levels as well. You could even take your dog out somewhere such as a park, store, restaurant, etc as new environments and interactions away from the home will often mentally stimulate your dog. We have a great article on Charleston’s Top 5 Dog Friendly Restaurants.
Think of it as when we would study hours for tests, remember that exhaustion as you got ready for bed after? That’s proper mental stimulation. The ultimate goal with these few tips is to bring down your dog’s energy level to where they are calm, relaxed, and manageable.
Safety and Calming Tip #2: Redirect Your Dog’s Negative Mindset To A Positive One
For those of us with trained dogs, we have the option to redirect that negative mindset and change it into something positive as well as provide adequate stimulation through our exercise and obedience drills. During the time that these fireworks are going off, I can run obedience drills to have my dog focus on me or place them in a stay behavior such as a down stay or spot.
We want to make sure that when we do this it’s out in the open a bit – not in a corner or against something as again that can reinforce insecurities and possibly make the reaction worse. Stay behaviors are great because they give our dogs something to focus on instead of going deeper into their mindset.
Practicing what we call engagement can change the association of the noises, assuming that they are confident enough to engage with us. That goes for play as well, however, I recommend that tug sessions, or whatever the act may be, take place in a fenced yard or inside during this time.
Safety and Calming Tip #3: Body Language
Body language is extremely important here and in all aspects of your dog’s life really. They are always communicating with us, we just have to “hear” them. When they settle down in our stay behaviors and display healthy body language such as their hips being rocked over or any other relaxed body language – I am going to heavily reward that to reinforce that mindset. As opposed to less than confident body language such as shaking, head lowered, whining, etc.
We must always be aware of what we are reinforcing to maintain a healthy mind in our dogs. Humans can accidentally add to bad behaviors without even realizing what they are doing. Touching, baby talk, etc are not comforting to dogs during their time of duress or ever really. They don’t understand it like humans do and I think that its unhelpfulness needs to be more commonly known.
Just to recap, exercise your dog and provide them with mental stimulation not only before this time but daily as well. Check out our great article and podcast on the Top 5 Charleston Dog Parks and How To Enjoy A Day At The Beach. Next, provide them with a task to do or change the association of the noises with something that they enjoy doing. Be aware of what you may be rewarding / reinforcing. As always though, read your dog’s body language and communicate with them in a way that they can understand.
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