An Open Letter to All Inquisitive Dog Guardians:
Fourth of July is almost here, and this year it’s a three-day weekend. That means an extended celebration with barbecues, alcohol, and explosives. Lots of them.
As a proud American, I enjoy many Fourth of July customs: time with friends and family, tables of delicious food, a Boston Pops concert, a parade, maybe donning a special stars and stripes collar for the day. But the explosives? Not so much.
Ka-Boom! can be quite frightening. And, most, if not all, of my fellow inquisitive canines feel the same way. (Some of us are better at masking the fear than others.) Fireworks also can be quite dangerous, especially the do-it-yourself backyard variety.
In a salute to our nation’s independence, my mom, a certified professional dog trainer, and I thought we’d use some of our Yankee ingenuity and send out gentle reminders on how to help keep us dogs safe while celebrating.
- Manage the environment: Dogs are scavengers. If something is within reach, it’s going to be investigated. Even if it means jumping up or climbing on tables. Please keep any and all food items out of our reach. This includes closing the barbecue cover. Yeah, jumping up on a hot grill isn’t very smart, but some dogs haven’t learned that yet.
- Food items: Some dogs have rock-gut stomachs, but many do not — including yours truly. Please make sure you feed us our normal diet. And ask all of the other humans to refrain from giving us snacks — no matter how much we work the room. Some foods aren’t good for dogs, and they might not know it. You can always post a reminder sign for everyone to see.
- Lighter fluid, charcoal, matches and lighters: All of those items used for the barbecue are often placed in areas where dogs like to sniff around. Please be aware of where they are placed.
- Alcoholic beverages: I once sniffed a beer that dad was drinking. Yuck! I don’t go near the stuff. But again, some dogs haven’t learned. Alcohol can be poisonous to dogs, so please keep all beverage containers (except our fresh water) out of our reach.
- Candles, Tiki torches, oil lamps, and other decorative products: These can be fun to investigate. Unfortunately, they can cause harm if they fall on us or we try to eat them, so again, if your dog is running around the house, keep these items in a safe place or put them away.
- Fireworks: First and foremost, keep them away from us. Exposure can cause burns and other injuries. Plus, they’re very scary to most animals, including yours truly. Keep all pets inside your home, where it is safe. Sometimes the explosions scare us and we like to run away.
- Create a fun time at home, or have a pet sitter: Leave your dog at home. Fireworks shows are fun for all of you humans, but for many of us dogs they’re too overwhelming. If you aren’t able to stay home with them, consider hiring a professional pet sitter or have a friend hang out and comfort your pets.
- Medications: If the anxiety is too much for your dog or cat to handle, contact your veterinarian about the option of an anti-anxiety medication.
- Phone numbers: Another step you’ll want to take is having phone numbers handy. If your dog or cat ingests something they shouldn’t have, you can contact the animal poison control center 24/7. You’ll also want to know in advance where the nearest 24-hour pet emergency clinic is and the fastest way to get there.
- Create a safe haven for your pet: The safest place for your pet is where he or she feels most comfortable. This is usually inside your own home or a friend or family member’s home.
- Dressed to the nines: Make sure your dog and/or cat is wearing a collar with ID tag that has your current contact information. If your dog or cat is microchipped, make sure that information is up to date as well.
- Train your dog to enjoy fireworks: For dogs that might be a bit bothered by the noise but still want to eat and engage in play, you can teach your dog to associate the weird noise with something great. You’ll want to start this process well in advance, so come the big day your dog will already know the game.
- Start with fireworks sounds effects on low volume: Play the sound, then in your happy voice say something like, “Yippee! It’s a party!” Then give your dog a really yummy treat. Use a treat that he or she never (or rarely) gets, such as a small piece of roast chicken or grilled steak. Repeat this process until your dog is looking at you, just waiting for the noise. You can then turn up the volume, but just a little bit. Keep repeating this process until the noise level mimics noises you might hear in your neighborhood.
- Be a good host: If you’re having your own party, either keep your pet tethered to you, place another responsible person in charge of watching the pet, or keep the pet sequestered to his or her own area. If you or another responsible person decides to keep your pet in tow, make sure he or she is safe from explosives and hot grills, as well as unfamiliar foods. If you decide to set your pet up in his or her own area, make sure he or she has access to water, food and his or her favorite toys. You’ll also want to make sure he or she has had sufficient exercise so he or she is more likely to want to nap. You’ll also need to check on your pet to make sure he or she is comfortable and stress-free and to offer potty breaks.
- Provide ambient pleasant sounds: Music or a TV show that can drown out the unpleasant sounds of fireworks that your pet already enjoys and feels comfortable around is the best choice. You’ll want to avoid playing anything that is just noise on top of more noise.
With a little bit of forethought and planning, you and your family will be able to spend more time celebrating and having fun, and less time at the emergency vet or searching for an escaped pet.
I’m not a pooch-party-pooper. Trust me, I love a barbecue more than most humans. But whatever you end up doing this weekend, please be sure to take extra precautions to secure the safety of your beloved pets — so you can enjoy celebrating more holidays together.
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