As July 4th approaches, we receive a lot of questions about firework anxiety. The reality is that there is so much to be concerned with around this time of year and while they are the tip of the iceberg, there is plenty to discuss in addition to fireworks.
With picnics and barbecues on the horizon there are quite a few things to think about.
First and foremost, we should pay attention to table scraps. People who come into our homes don’t always know what dogs should and should not eat so be mindful of what people may try to feed your pup. If your dog lacks training on impulse control or just tends to be opportunistic with company, be wary of corn on the cob as the cobs can create severe blockages if swallowed. Additionally don’t forget that our fruit salads often include grapes and be especially careful when the chocolates come out for dessert! If you want to have your dogs outside for the picnic, be sure to use a “place command” somewhere in the shade and in line of sight, and of course, leave water within reach for them.
Secondly there are the folks who casually leave open the front door or forget to latch or secure entranceways into your home. In the days coming prior to the event, be sure to practice threshold exercises and try to fit in a structure walk the morning that you plan on having company or going out. This will help your pups get into a working mindset prior to all of the excitement and will reinforce some safe boundaries, preventing your dog from bolting at the sight of an open door.
And to the firework finale… fireworks are a great litmus test for your dog. Does your dog avoid the stress by hiding under furniture? Do they pee on the floor? Do they vocalize and their fur stands up? Do they get destructive and chew on things they aren’t supposed to? Do they come over to you for reinforcement? Do they give you a quick glance, decide things are okay and move on? Or do they just ignore the fireworks outright? As you know, learning to cope with stress and learning to manage our reactions to stress is a cornerstone of The Knotty Dog lifestyle for both human and canine alike. The way that your dog reacts to lightning storms, fireworks, and other stressors tells a story and it is incredibly important to pay attention to their reaction. What we learn in these moments as dog owners is what our pets need to focus most on as we consider what we need to practice when training.
Each reaction gives insight into training opportunities and sometimes can provide trends. Take note and take action. In the meantime, a great way to work through most firework anxiety is to pick up the leash, get into a structure walk and head over to a place command where they can focus on a duration command and work on finding comfort in their own skin. Of course if your dog seems a little too tense and presents as dangerous, best to consult your trainer.
One last thought: remember not to reward anxious behavior. Old habits die hard and what you pet is what you get! Setting the tone for a calming environment can be as simple as turning on some music, diffusing some essential oils and providing your dog with a high value chew from your local feed store (such as a bully stick or raw bone) that will help you both enjoy this exciting time of the year.