Whether you’re playing Ray Charles “America the Beautiful” or the “1812 Overture” on the Fourth of July, one song you don’t want to play is, “Who Let the Dogs Out?” More pets go missing around this holiday than at any other time of the year.
It’s all about fireworks. Some dogs are terrified; one large boom and they’re jumping over a backyard fence or digging under one. Panicked dogs usually contained by electronic fencing break through. Others bolt out open doors.
Obviously, you should never let doors stand open and avoid leaving your dog in the yard without supervision, but if a pet does get lost, identification can make the difference between life and death.
Cats and dogs should have ID tags with owner contact information. Since collars can fall off or be removed, a microchip (implanted by a veterinarian) is the only permanent form of ID. However, while more owners are microchipping their pets, too many forget to submit contact information to the microchip provider. Without current data, there’s no way to locate the owner.
Of course, it would help if pets weren’t so terrified of fireworks in the first place. Not that you can blame them. Since canine hearing is better than our own, fireworks must sound like an explosion in a dog’s head. Convincing your pal that the racket is all about patriotism is futile.
While some pets seem oblivious to fireworks, others display mild distress to all out panic. Here are some tips to help to deal with anxious dogs. (Before trying any of these techniques, talk with your vet.):
1. Desensitization-counter conditioning: Introducing your pet to the sound of fireworks well before the Fourth can help or even “cure” some dogs. Play a CD of fireworks sounds, which can be downloaded from the Internet. (A free audio download is at www.dogsandfireworks.com.) Begin by playing the sounds at a low level while simultaneously having fun with your dog. Put on the CD periodically throughout the day so the sounds become part of the dog’s environment, much like the sound of cars honking or the dishwasher running. Play the CD during mealtime, gradually pumping up the volume. If your dog reacts, you’ve gone too fast, so dial it down a bit. Hopefully, your dog will eventually associate the sound of fireworks with a positive experience (like play or eating).
2. Storm defender and anxiety wrap: Each is a tight-fitting outfit for a dog. A pooch in a Storm Defender looks like a superhero in a bright red cape. According to the manufacturer, the product shields a dog from the static charge buildup before a thunderstorm, reducing anxiety. The Anxiety Wrap maker says the product calms dogs by providing acupressure (www.stormdefender.com or www.anxietywrap.com).
3. Calming cap: This hood is designed to lessen a dog’s anxiety. A single-panel sheer fabric window makes the dog’s vision indistinct, reducing visual stimulus. (www.buygentleleader.com/View.aspx?page=dogs/products/behavior/other).
4. Dog appeasing pheromone, or DAP: Released from a dog collar or plug-in diffuser, this is a knock-off, or analog, of the ‘appeasing pheromone’ naturally produced by lactating mother dogs to comfort and reassure their offspring. The pheromone can help calm nervous or anxious dogs or puppies. (www.dap-pheromone.com/).
5. Earplugs: Human earplugs can be used for some dogs to muffle sounds.
6. Games: If you can convince your dog to play fetch or roll around a toy so treats tumble out, the pet is less likely to go into full panic mode. Of course, depending on how anxious your dog is, this may be easier said than done. Dogs in full panic mode are often not interested in games or food.
7. Anti-anxiety drugs: For the most fearful dogs, consider this alternative. Alprazolam, or Xanax, is generally the drug of choice, though every dog is different. The problem with Benadryl or Acepromazine is that while they make dogs drowsy, they do nothing to alleviate anxiety. An herbal calming agent, such as Rescue Remedy, is another option.
Steve Dale welcomes questions and comments from readers. Although he can’t answer all of them individually, he’ll answer those of general interest in his column. Write to Steve at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207. Send email to PETWORLD@STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve’s website is www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated “Steve Dale’s Pet World” and “The Pet Minute.” He’s also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.