HERE ARE SOME TIPS TO DECREASE YOUR ANXIETY (about your dog’s anxiety) WHEN INDEPENDENCE DAY ROLLS AROUND

This time of year, many dog owners tell us that behaviors like: jumping up on people, crowding them, slobbering on them, barking, incessantly licking them, hopping into laps, knocking things and people over, and even running off, are behaviors they’d like to find remedies for prior to stressing their way through another Independence day celebration.  Now, you could do the obvious short-term thing and simply put your dog away, but people also tell me that this option frequently results in having your dog barking from the laundry room or their crate during the entire event.  Don”t misunderstand me, it”s OK to seclude your dog for periods during some events but there are some strategies and some preliminary work you can do (#3 on our list) that can make that a lot easier too.  In the event that you want to have your dog out for a while during the action on Independence Day (and don”t feel like apologizing all night for your dog”s behavior), you may want to do some preliminary homework.

1) A TIRED DOG IS A GOOD DOG: Start exercising your dog more now! A good solid, tongue hanging out (your dog’s – not yours) workout for your dog once or twice a day will do wonders for, what we call, “annoyance behaviors” (barking, chewing, digging, jumping, being overly rambunctious) On the day of your big event, make sure you get in two exercise sessions!  Make sure your second session is as close to the celebration time as possible.  The notion that ‘a tired dog is a good dog’, is true.

I”d like to say I thought of this idea but it goes way back.  You might be surprised to know that this is actually an old dog sales trick.  If a breeder, shelter, of anyone else, is showing a dog to a prospective buyer, often they will run the legs right off that dog prior to the “get acquainted” visit.  Prospective buyers inevitably comment on the mild-mannered nature of the dog they”re thinking of buying and are surprised when they get him home and find out that he”s really a lot more naturally energetic than they”d been lead to believe!

2) HOME MADE OBEDIENCE BOOT CAMP:  Start having your dog practice more obedience in the house and the yard right now.  Many times we let our dog have a free run of the house and they really don’t get asked to do much in the way of listening to you around the house or yard.  Do some mini-homework sessions around your house and yard throughout the day, with whatever obedience you and your dog know now.  Have a sort of boot camp mentality for a couple of weeks and really get into it with your dog.  Do two or three (6-7 minute) homework sessions in different parts of your house and yard where you’re going to be expecting your dog to listen to you during all the commotion on the 4th of July.  Particularly take advantage of any smaller number of guests that visit, prior to your big party, and begin to teach your dog that they have to listen even when (and really … especially when) other people and distractions are around .

Begin to Use Noise as a Distraction

While you”re practicing your “boot camp” training for the several days to two weeks prior to the big event, begin using noises as a distraction during training.  Start with low volume approximations of these noises and gradually work your way up to louder and louder versions of your ”noise distractions”.  I”ve found two metal garbage can lids banging together to be a good option.  Other possibilities include:

  • Baseball-sized rocks being tossed into a metal bucket or metal garbage can
  • Hitting old pieces of sheet metal with a stick or a hammer
  • Or if your child is lucky enough to have one of those cool old-fashioned cap guns in their toy arsenal you could use that too.
  • If you want to be high-tech, you could download some fireworks sounds off the internet and progressively use that sound track to get your dog accustomed to these noises during your mini boot camp.

Frequently, working your way up to using multiple forms of loud distraction noise is a good way to really challenge your dog in the last couple days of your boot camp.  If it”s legal in your area, you could also work your way up to setting off some small fire crackers or noise makers as part of your distraction routine.  If you use a distraction like this (distractions that you can”t control the volume of), use distance to adjust the level of noise the small fire crackers will make and gradually get them closer to your dog as he becomes more proficient.  Additionally, if you have kids, they”re usually naturally gifted at coming up with ways to make noise (and are usually ecstatic to here a parent say, ” OK, make as much noise as you can right now!”)  So, enlist your kids to help as training assistants as you condition your dog to listening to you while more and more progressively loud and sudden noises occurs.

3) PRACTICE THE RITUAL OF ALONE TIME:  Begin practicing secluding your dog for varied periods of time (meaning different durations and different times of the day) even when you’re home.  Often we only seclude our dogs somewhere when we leave.  It, therefore, seems strange to a dog if you ever have to seclude them somewhere (laundry room, kennel run, garage, behind a pet gate etc.) when you’re still home and particularly when there’s lots of interesting people visiting.  Also, save a special, time-consuming, treat for your secluded dog.  For example, a Kong, with peanut butter smeared inside of it, lasts for quite a while and most dogs like it.  If you’re dog only gets one of those toys when he’s secluded,  he will often begin associating going into his secluded spot as a good thing.

Also, if you”re crating your dog to give them a secluded place to escape from the loud noises, you may want to partially cover their crate with  a blanket or quilt to help muffle the sudden noise of fireworks.

4) THE INSURANCE POLICY OF MEDICATION: If your dog”s anxiety around fireworks is extreme, be sure to speak with your vet about the possibility of getting them to prescribe some medication to temporarily help with the anxiety and noise sensitivity during your 4th of July celebration.

Let us know if you have any techniques that you’ve found successful and be sure to let us know how your pooch did at this year’s Independence Day celebration.

By the way, some related articles you may find interesting on this blog are:

THE EXERCISE EXPERIMENT: Solve your dog’s behavioral issues … without training?

Happy Independence Day,

Sean