Summer is a fun and crazy time. There's trips and vacations, tournaments, barbecues, and chaos in between. When we get ready to celebrate Independence Day, we plan for our barbecues, fireworks, trips, etc. One area people forget to prepare for is their dog on the Fourth of July. For some, this is your dog's first Independence Day and you can do little things now to make it a good experience, or a bad one, for your dog. Here are some tips to get you started.
People frequently enjoy getting to grill out and enjoy the outdoors on their Independence Day. With all the hotdogs and burgers falling on the ground, your dog may start to enjoy it too. But if your dog is a chow-hound and eats anything that falls on the ground, this could quickly become unsafe. There are many foods that are not safe for dogs to eat and even the ones that are safe could cause an upset stomach if too much is eaten. You don't see many healthy dogs that have eaten as many hotdogs as they can desire. You also don't want a dog constantly begging at other people trying to enjoy their food either. Work on some impulse control games to help emulate this situation before Independence Day, so your dog can enjoy the barbecue, but not get sick or annoy your guests with constant begging.
Another area of concern is for our door-dashers. You may have people walking in and out and the last thing you want is your dog to sneak out the front or bully their way out the door and to run off. Even if you only plan on the dog going in and out of a door to a fenced back yard, do you really want a dog that will bulldoze through everyone going through the doors? How about as you walk through with a plate of food? Working on simple door manners or a "go to place" cue can help keep a dog from being underfoot at the doorway and prevent them from bolting through the doors.
How does your dog do around guests? Do you have a dog that likes guests? Does your dog jump up on people or trip people? How about children? Does your dog knock kids over or chase them? Is your dog scared of kids? If you have a dog that is fearful, behavior modification would be the way to go and a certified behaviorist or certified trainer can give some tips to help manage during the holiday as well as how to work through this for the future. If you have a dog lacking manners, that is something you can start now and train a dog to keep four paws on the floor and not be underfoot. A good recall when a dog is outside with kids is also an important skill to have.
And lastly, have you prepped your dog for the fireworks? Fireworks can be extremely scary to dogs and other animals and you should take the time to prepare them for this. If you have a dog that is crate trained, meaning that the crate is a happy, safe spot for your dog, then you already have a good start for the dog. If not, you need to create a quiet and safe space for your dog to feel comfortable. Find a recording of different fireworks and on a low volume, play it when your dog is eating, when they are chewing their special Kong or bully stick, or set aside time to feed them high value treats at the same time they are hearing the noises. As the dog does better and is pretty neutral or creating good associations with the noises, you can slowly raise the volume just a little. If at any point your dog is fearful, lower the volume and intensity and get higher value rewards to condition with. This needs to be a neutral or positive experience; you do not want to already be creating a bad experience before the full-blown holiday actually is here. When the dog is fine with the noises and has created good associations, then focus on the visuals. At night, with the blinds pulled down, have someone flash bright flashlights and other lights through the windows starting from far away and get a little closer as the dog does better. Again, start with it barely even visible to the dog and increase as the dog does better with neutral or positive associations and increase value of the reward as the dog is having to do more. If you have a dog that is crate trained, you could potentially by-pass this step by simply putting cardboard or heavy blankets over the the crate to block out the visuals. Only do this if your dog is comfortable being covered up. During the big day, it is highly recommended you keep your dog indoors and in their safe place, ideally their crate, and give them something extra special to keep them preoccupied during the nighttime festivities (my dog loves a Kong with wet dog food frozen into it). Do not bring your dog out to watch the fireworks with you. Your dog does not see the fun and beauty in the show and more likely than not will be terrified. So often do I see people bring their dogs to these events where they may think their dog is doing ok, but to a trained eye, the dog is clearly not having a good time. So many pets get lost on Independence Day weekend because of the fireworks and animals try to run away because they are scared. So please, leave them inside at home in their special place. And do not skimp out on preparing them and conditioning them to the noises. It is unfair to subject them to extreme fear due to our laziness.
If you have not started preparing your dog for the holiday or you have tried and are so far unsuccessful, contact a certified dog trainer today to help you and your dog! It is not too late and you still have time. Let's make this holiday an enjoyable experience for us, our guest, and also our four-legged friends too!