According to HomeAgain, a pet microchipping company, more dogs get lost on the Fourth of July than any other day of the year. Loud noises, especially fireworks, can cause fear and anxiety in our pets and with Independence Day on the horizon, no doubt many dog owners are not looking forward to the festivities that come along with the holiday. This article discusses keeping your dog safe as well as several methods of anxiety prevention for the firework shows. These methods of anxiety prevention are also applicable to thunderstorms.
In order to keep them safe we have several tips. In the event that your dog does get loose, make sure your dog is wearing an up to date and visible ID tag. If your dog is microchipped, ensure that there is some indication of this on his or her collar. To reduce the chance of your dog slipping his or her collar during a walk with fireworks, take your dog out earlier in the day. Before you leave to attend the festivities, set out some distractions for your dog such as a Kong stuffed with frozen peanut butter, a bob-a-lot filled with treats, or a bone or chew toy to gnaw on. If you have a dog that is afraid of fireworks, turn on some gentle music, shut the windows, and close the curtains to reduce the noise level. Make sure your door is securely fastened before departing. It is inadvisable to take noise fearful or unpredictable dogs out to firework shows.
Unfortunately, many dogs who are afraid of fireworks also exhibit anxious or fearful behavior when thunderstorms roll around. This can be devastating for owners as these behaviors can often be destructive as well as harmful to your dog. No one wants to see their dog suffering. There are several options which could help.
There are several supplements that may appeal to owners. The first of these is melatonin. Owners suffering from insomnia may be familiar with melatonin—a hormone linked to the circadian rhythm. Melatonin is a naturally occurring substance produced by the pineal gland. Dr. Aronson, DVM recommends administering three mg for a 35-100 lb dog. Dogs under 30 lbs should be given 1.5 mg and larger dogs may require six mg. Melatonin is not a sedative; dogs using it will remain alert and awake. Like all supplements for both dogs and people, the effectiveness for each individual dog is not guaranteed. However, this is an excellent starting place and an easy remedy for the dogs it does work for.
Another supplement is NutriCalm. NutriCalm is a proprietary blend of natural ingredients formulated to calm and soothe anxious dogs. Active ingredients include L-Tryptophan, Valerian Root Extract, Ashwaganda Extract, Catnip Extract, L-theanine, Calcium and Magnesium. The label recommends administering one tablet for every 25-50 lbs of body weight. If hoping to begin the use of NutriCalm, a consultation with a veterinarian is recommended. As with melatonin, NutriCalm is not a guarantee although again an easy fix for the dogs that it does work for.
These supplements are best used as preventative measures rather than being administered during the event. Giving the supplements at least 30 minutes prior to the stressful event or prior to leaving the dog alone will render them their most effective.
Aside from supplements there is another option which may naturally help your dog relax. The Thundershirt is a tight fitting body shirt designed to apply constant pressure to the dog’s torso. This is intended to reduce anxiety and fearfulness as body enclosure and constant pressure has a calming effect on dogs.
It is best for a fearful dog to have its owner stay home with them. If this is possible, there are a few other options for the owner at home as well as things to avoid.
The first thing to do is reduce the stimuli. Close windows and doors as well as curtains to shut out sound and flashing lights. Play gentle music and add white noise such as a fan to mask the sounds. This music should also be played during relaxing times in order to prevent the formation of negative association with calming music.
Your dog may wish to stay close to you during frightening events. If it helps your dog to be near you, you can allow it do so. However, you must remember to stay calm, stressful behavior on the part of the owner will only feed the dog’s behavior. Gentle massage may assist with calming your dog. Do not punish a dog or forcefully remove it from its hiding place as this will merely frighten the dog further and create a more negative response.
There are training solutions to consider as well. Training a dog to find its bed and consider the dog bed an enjoyable and safe place may help reduce stress. To begin, place your dog’s bed near you but away from the windows or doors to help reduce the stimulus. Regularly have your dog settle in the bed, rewarding calm and settled behavior. Have your dog go to his bed at different times of the day so that there isn’t one specific time associated with being calm.
During the event, remain calm and happy and continuously feed tasty treats or counter condition with a fun game such as tossing a ball each time the noise occurs. This will create a positive, happy association with the noise. Remain cheerful. The usage of a Thundershirt in combination may also help create a positive experience. Desensitization training may be beneficial.
Sound desensitization CDs are a good tool to use to systematically desensitize your dog to noises that evoke a fearful response. When beginning the use of these CDs it is recommended to engage your dog in a fun activity or give them a favorite toy or bone first, then begin the “music.” Start with the sound as low as possible yet loud enough that your dog responds to it. When your dog shows signs of discomfort you can begin the training process by counter conditioning with food treats if necessary or encouragement to continue the fun activity or chewing on their bone. When the dog calms down, reward him and continue playing the sound cd for a bit longer, then decrease the volume. This is a successful training session and should be repeated soon after, using the same method. Remember where you had the volume set for the previous session and use that setting for the next few sessions. After these sessions you should notice a decrease in the amount of reaction that your dog shows at that volume level. The next step is to set up the same situation but now you should need to increase the volume to illicit a reaction from your dog. Gradually, over time, your dog will be able to withstand the CD being played at full volume and not display a fearful reaction. Systematic desensitization is a process that takes time and many, many repetitions. These repetitions should occur fairly frequently.
To prepare for the Fourth of July, it is wise to begin training in the beginning of June or earlier to allow enough time to properly complete the desensitization process without feeling rushed and potentially causing an adverse reaction. Again, this process should not be rushed.
Severe cases may require medications such as Xanax or Valium. These require consultation with a veterinarian to find the correct dosage for a dog. Try to avoid Acepromazine, a tranquilizer that will sedate your dog but will not reduce anxiety.
Most dogs will respond positively to training. If you need help finding the best solution for your dog or if you would like help guiding your dog through the desensitization process, please call our office at 412.364.4122 to speak with our Behavior Consultant, Jeff Woods. Misty Pines carries the items that we recommend in this article, such as Bob-A-Lots, Kongs, Sound CDs, Melatonin and Nutricalm. We can also Microchip your dog. Microchipping is by appointment and only takes 10 minutes. Let Misty Pines help you and your dog be safe and happy this Fourth of July.