By Christine Caplan, author of My Life With Dogs PDX.
Living with an anxious dog requires patience and management, especially during the summer months.
If you live with a dog that is categorized as anxious or reactive, the Fourth of July isn’t a holiday you typically look forward to. Instead, you dread it. Any holiday that involves fireworks and loud noises is tough for your four legged friend to cope with.
There are solutions. With a little research and a plan in place the summer months can be enjoyed even by dogs that react negatively to fireworks or large summer celebrations.
I live with a Beagle/Basset mix, Shermie, and he is a prime candidate for escaping our backyard if he hears a loud noise or even thunder. Also known as “sweet Snoop”, Shermie, is very reactive on leash with other dogs and many trainers categorize him as fearful. I’ve lived with him for almost eight years now so he’s easily managed on walks but this time of year I have to get creative. Anxious or reactive dogs can be sensitive to their environments – sometimes more than other dogs so it’s better to be prepared during the month of July.
Fireworks season just kicked off and they are LEGAL in Oregon which is a nightmare for my three hounds. The entire month of July involves neighbors using fireworks everywhere – the street, backyard, and school a block away – you get the point.
I’ve included a list of all the management tools I’ve tried and those I’ve found success with:
- White noise machines are an excellent way to control the noise in your home: I have one in each room turned on to the stream or ocean option. If all the windows are closed and the A/C turned on, this helps drown out fireworks in the distance. A TV may work too but I find noise machines work best.
- Rescue Remedy: Flower essences are often referred to as a tool to help calm anxious animals. Some people swear by them. Flower Essences are liquid vibrational remedies that are similar to acupuncture, reiki, qi gong and homeopathy. Rescue Remedy can bring on a calm state of mind in your animal and is available at most health food stores.
- Safe place in the house: Even though we’re home during fireworks, Sherm typically likes to hide in our laundry room. It makes him feel safe. My dogs are crate trained but I actually make a nest of blankets with Kong’s (a type of puzzle toy) and toys for him to hang out with in this space. A crate works well too and you can cover it with a blanket which is a nice visual barrier.
Herbs for anxiety (or prescribed drugs): Our holistic vet prepares a tincture with sedating herbs for Sherm. Some years this works well as you can dose it every 3-4 hours. Some years we use Alprazolam which is given to us by our Veterinarian. This is also a sedative and helps take the edge off. Please ask your veterinarian for a recommendation to help your dog stay calm this time of year. There are some new drugs on the market too so make sure you ask what your options are.
- IDs are a must: Your dog should have a Micro-chip or a digital ID Tag. Then, if you have your dog out with you and for some reason they get spooked or loose, they can be returned to you quickly. Tags like PetHub - a digital ID tag - include a staffed, 24-hour found pet hotline, GPS alerts with an interactive map, and instant lost pet notifications so rescues and shelters in your area can be on the lookout.
- Exercise: A tired dog is a good dog. This saying is VERY true when the environment is stressful. Go on a long walk or hike that day so your pup is tired to begin with – anxious dogs benefit from a good amount of exercise, then not as much mental energy is spent on being anxious throughout the evening.
- Pressure Wraps like the Thundershirt are said to work well for reactive dogs. Shermie doesn’t like being wrapped and reacts negatively but I know people that swear by these types of products.
- A Kong filled with food or a puzzle toy: Use anything you can to distract your dog from the loud noises. There are tons of great recipes on Pinterest for Kong stuffing. One of my favorite tricks is to combine yogurt and blueberries, fill the Kong, and let it sit in the freezer all day. This can take Shermie up to 30 minutes to finish and his mind is only on getting out all the blueberries!
- Make sure you take your dog out to potty before fireworks start: The worst thing you can do is take your anxious dog outside during any loud noises or force them to go potty – do all bathroom breaks before festivities begin. Once a dog starts reacting negatively, it seems to get worse and can spiral downhill.
I have tried a lot of techniques as you can see to help make Shermie more comfortable, and some of these work well. Start with some of the easier tips including filling puzzle toys and creating a safe space – perhaps that’s all you’ll need. If you know your anxious dog is going to need some additional support this summer, and you'll need to get creative, try Rescue Remedy and schedule an appointment with your vet to explore your options. Find ways for your best friend to have a happy and safe holiday!
For more info on how to keep your pet found, check out PetHub's Lost Pet Prevention page.
Christie Caplan lives in Portland, Oregon. She is a Certified Veterinary Technician and author of the blog My Life With Dogs PDX (Portland). She uses her knowledge to inform on topics such as health and wellness (with an emphasis on alternative techniques), enrichment ideas for anxious dogs, and being active with your dog. She lives with three hounds – two Doxies and a Beagle/Basset Hound mix. Learn more about Christie and her dogs HERE.