ASK THE VET

Protect your pet from ‘bombs bursting in air’

By CANDY WAYLOCK
Posted

Who doesn’t love the excitement of Fourth of July fireworks celebrating our nation’s birthday?

Lots of four legged creatures, say animal welfare organizations.

“Every year on the fifth of July, animal control officers get a huge volume of calls about pets who, frightened by the noise of the parades and fireworks, escape from their families or dig out of their yards in a desperate attempt to flee,” said Jaclyn Rosenberg, marketing communications coordinator for the Humane Society of the United State (HSUS).

A fear of noises can develop in dogs of all ages, although puppies appear to be less susceptible to the loud noises of fireworks (and thunderstorms). Typical symptoms include restless behavior, heavy panting, shaking, and excessive drooling, along with hiding, tails tucked and other protective stances.
So what can a responsible pet parent do to make the Fourth of July less traumatic for their pet? Here are suggestions from the HSUS.

Avoid the situation entirely
Do not bring your pets to events where loud noises and bright lights are likely to scare them. On days like the Fourth of July, be sure your pets spend the day inside, secure and safe.

Create a safe place
Designate a place for your pets to go to when they hear the noises that frighten them. But remember, this must be a safe location from their perspective, not yours. Notice where they go (or try to go) when frightened. If they are trying to get inside the house, consider installing a dog door. If they are trying to get under your bed, give them access to your bedroom.

Consider using a fan or radio near the spot to help block out the sound. Pets should be able to come and go from this location freely. Confining them in their "safe space" when they don’t want to be there can cause more problems.

Distraction
This method works best when your dog is just beginning to get anxious. Start when they first alert to the noise, but are not yet showing a lot of fearful behavior. Immediately try to interest them in something they really enjoy, such as fetching a ball or their favorite toy. Reward them with praise and treats. As the storm or other noise builds, you may not be able to keep their attention on the activity, but it might delay the start of the fearful behavior for longer and longer each time you do it. If you can't keep their attention and they begin acting fearfully, stop the process. If you continue, you may inadvertently reinforce the negative behavior.

Behavior modification
Behavior modification techniques such as “counter-conditioning" and "desensitization" are often successful in reducing fears and phobias. These techniques must be implemented very gradually, and they condition or teach your dog to respond in non-fearful ways to sounds and other stimuli that have previously frightened her.

Begin by exposing your dog to an intensity level of noise that doesn't frighten her and pairing the noise with something pleasant, like a treat or a fun game. Gradually increase the volume as you continue to offer them something pleasant. Through this process, they’ll come to associate "good things" with the previously feared sound. Be careful using behavior modification. If these techniques aren't used correctly, they won't be successful and could even make the problem worse.

Consult your veterinarian
Medication may be available to help reduce your dog's anxiety levels, but your vet is the only person who can prescribe appropriate medication. Don't give your pet any over-the-counter or prescription medication without consulting your vet. Animals don't respond to drugs the same way people do, and a medication that may be safe for humans could be fatal to your dog. Drug therapy alone won't reduce fears permanently, but in extreme cases, medication and behavior modification might be the best approach.

What not to do

  • Do not attempt to reassure your dog when she is afraid. This will only reinforce fearful behavior. If you pet, soothe, or give treats to your pets it may be seen as a reward for their fear. Instead, try to behave normally, as if you don't notice their fearfulness.
  • Do not put your dog in a crate. Pets will still be fearful in the crate and are likely to injure themselves, perhaps severely, while attempting to get out of the crate.
    Do not punish your dog for being afraid. Punishment will only make them more afraid.
  • Do not try to force your dog to experience or be close to the sound that frightens them. Making them stay close when firecrackers are going off will only make them more afraid, and could cause aggression in an attempt to escape from the situation. ■

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Stella Dowling of Roswell, with her dog Honey, blends her love of animals and business savvy as the owner of three locally-based businesses.  Read more page 8.

 

 

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