The fourth of July is only a few days away, and Denver will be filled with celebration and fireworks. Not only will there be many major fireworks displays, but the streets of nearly every neighborhood will be filled with the sounds of firecrackers and roman candles. However humans tend to enjoy the ear-piercing shrieks and thunderous booms produced by fireworks more than dogs do.
Some activists believe fireworks should be completely outlawed because of the trauma inflicted upon some dogs. Others believe that fireworks are a time-honored celebratory human tradition, and that any dog can be desensitized to fireworks with a little proactive effort. And, of course, there are a number of positions in between.
Dogs who fear fireworks may display a number undesirable behaviors on Independence Day, such as urinating or defecating indoors, digging holes to escape their yards, chewing and biting, hiding, and barking incessantly.
If you have one of these dogs (or if you don’t and want to make sure it stays that way), here are some tips to help you and your dog survive the festivities.
- Never comfort a fearful dog. Humans love to comfort each other, so it is natural for us to want to comfort our dogs. However dogs learn by association, and that can sometimes lead to unintended results. If we comfort dogs (i.e. give them positive feedback) when they are afraid, there is a good chance they will see their fearfulness as a rewarding behavior. This could actually make their fear of loud noises worse. The last thing you want is to train your dog to be fearful in order to get positive attention.
- Prepare your dog ahead of time. Purchase recordings of fireworks and play them in your house a few times a day. Incrementally increase the volume of the sound. This could help desensitize your dog to the sound of fireworks before the real deal.
- Set a good example. In the wild, dogs watch other dogs and use them as examples of how to act or behave. Our dogs watch us as well. When the fireworks are going off, you should try to stay calm and act as if it is no big deal. If you act as if the noises are irrelevant, it can make a positive impression on your dog.
- Teach by association. Try to teach your dog to associate fireworks with something it likes. When a firework goes off, quickly pop a treat in your dog's mouth. With a little luck, he will learn that the fireworks mean something tasty is coming. In fact, you can use almost anything your dog likes to distract him from the noise and help him make a positive association, such as playing fetch or tug-of-war.
If you are one of the folks who will be setting fireworks off in the street in front of your house, please let your dog-owning neighbors know about it in advance so that they have opportunity to prepare their dogs or go elsewhere. In other words, be neighborly.