How to Enjoy the 4th of July with your Dog
The 4th of July might be a fun, relaxing holiday for us, but it’s the scariest night of the year for many of our beloved family dogs. Your pup is having a grand old time at the backyard BBQ; hyped up on all the overstimulation of strange new friends, dropped food, kids to play with, music, and all the other strange activity, but then the sun goes down and BOOM! Literally. Sensory overload. So is there anything you can do to help your pup through the day, and night? Of course there is…
Just remember the “3 Cs”
Before we get to the "3 Cs" let’s quickly run through the signs that your dog might be afraid of fireworks. Sometimes, their fear is really obvious, but stoic dogs can be much more subtle with clues. Keep an eye out for these behaviors:
jumpiness, and being hyper alert and watchful of her surroundings
muscle tension; check abdomen, jaw, and legs
tail tucked between his legs (if she has one, shout out to the “Nub Club” from Ruby Roo!)
ears tightly flattened back
whites of eyes showing
licking lips, drooling
hiding in unusual places: under furniture, in closet, in bathroom
hiding in usual places: kennel, on the bed, in her doghouse (obviously, your pup might just be taking a regular snooze in these places, but if she shows an unwillingness to leave when asked, take note)
trying to be verryyyy close to you
restlessness, inability to get comfortable
trying to bolt from the room or house
disinterest in food or treats
compulsive behavior: licking, chewing
abnormal bowel movements
accidents in the house (if she’s house trained)
Ok, now that we know what behaviors to be looking for, what can we do to help?
Make the Day Pleasant & Interesting
If you’re home by yourselves, just like everyday, keep your routine the same as it always is. Consistency is a key part of managing anxiety. But you might add a fun chewy treat into your day, like a bully stick, or take a good long walk in a quiet place to tucker your dog out.
If you’re hosting a party, try your best to keep to your dog’s routine. Again, consistency manages anxiety. As we get swept up in preparations and entertaining, a well behaved family dog can be easily “forgotten” and left to her own devices to fill her time. For example; if you take a walk every morning, don’t skip it because you have a million other things to do, just shorten it if you can; a quick trip around the block will do. Another: if you and your border collie play frisbee every day at lunch to release the pent up zoomies, make sure you take a break to do so. If you have one, you know that high energy dogs especially need an outlet in order to curb anxiety and bad behaviors on a regular day. When guests arrive, make sure your dog has access to a safe, quiet, alone space. Even if she’s the social-est of butterflies, everyone needs a break sometimes. And, include your dog in the festivities if she’s comfortable with that. Let everyone know her favorite places for scratches, encourage your adult guests and dog savvy children to play fetch with her (while keeping a watchful eye, child and dog safety is a blog post for another day), give her a chewy treat to keep her busy while everyone enjoys the day, start the day with CBDs and have them on hand to manage overstimulation. (more on the benefits of a CBD supplement later on)
If you’re going out and leaving your dog home alone for the day, get as much of your routine in as possible. I know, you know, consistency and anxiety. You may also consider modifying your dog’s home alone space. If your dog stays in a kennel or a single room while you’re out, that’s great, no modification necessary. She’ll feel safe and cozy. If she normally has free reign of the house when you’re gone, put up gates, or close some doors so there is less room for panic. Be sure your dog has her safe space (bed or kennel) within these parameters. If you usually leave your dog outside in the yard while you’re out, don’t, if you don’t have to. Even if she doesn’t have firework fear, holidays are unpredictable, and better to be safe than sorry. Regardless of where your dog will be spending the day, give her some CBDs before you leave to calm her nerves.
Be Ready When the Fireworks Start
If you’re home with your dog and the fireworks are going off in the distance, be there with her if that’s what calms her down. Our dogs look to us for behavioral cues, and they need their people for reassurance when they’re scared. Make sure supper and the following business are taken care of before firework time; many dogs aren’t interested in food when they’re frightened, but a full belly will make her sleepy and comfortable. Go to a quiet place away from guests if necessary, give her some real good pets, wrap her in a t-shirt or thundershirt, talk to her, close the curtains to muffle sound.
Distract your dog with a good chewy treat. A raw bone (my #1 pick by a mile) is hard to resist, and this high value, long lasting reward will keep her occupied for sure. Options such as bully sticks, fish skins, pig ears, and the like are high value but don’t last long. These are great for a quick distraction while you prepare a safe space, or need to attend to something else. Long lasting chews like hooves and horns will provide activity for a good long while, but you may need to add dog-safe peanut butter or another treat to catch your dog’s interest.
And finally, keep your dog on a leash during fireworks, even at home in your fenced yard. Frightened dogs bolt, most fences are just tall enough to keep a well behaved dog in, and you don’t want to find out how athletic she really is. More pets go missing on this holiday than any other time of the year.
Now, I’ll be blunt. Don’t take your dog to the fireworks. It’s not worth it. There’s too much going on. There will be strange smells, loud noises, you’ll be surrounded by people she doesn’t know, who don’t know her. It’s a recipe for disaster. If you absolutely, 100%, for whatever reason must take your dog with you to the fireworks, be over prepared. Consistency of routine is out the window in this situation. Triple check her harness and leash for safety, bring a distraction, like a chewy treat or toy, along (only if your dog has no resource aggression; remember, you’ll be surrounded by strangers), give CBDs before you arrive, so anxiety is curbed in advance.
More on the Third C, CBDs
Alright, as promised earlier, here’s what you need to know about using CBDs to manage fear and anxiety.
What are CBDs? Cannabidiol (CBD) is a type of cannabinoid found in cannabis. There are over 100 different cannabinoids, and the CBDs we’re talking about are extracted from hemp. CBD oil is beneficial because of the endocannabinoid system. All mammals, dogs included, have endocannabinoid systems composed of interconnected cannabinoid receptors which are in charge of relaying information about what’s going on in the body in order to trigger the appropriate immune response. CBD oil, as a cannabinoid, bonds with these receptors, allowing better, more efficient communication, naturally helping to bring your dog’s body and brain into balance.
How CBD’s can Help: When your dog is anxious, her brain releases a storm of stress hormones. CBD oil works by interacting with the endocannabinoid system to tell the body something isn’t right, in this case, the chemical imbalance that is anxiety. Her brain eases up on the hormone release, the imbalance starts to clear, and your dog is better able to cope with her emotions.
Types of CBD Products: Treats, oils, and sprays. Treats are the simplest way to administer CBDs to your dog, but perhaps not the most effective for anxiety purposes. Treats take longer to kick in than oils, so are better suited for anti-inflammatory applications. Oils are easily absorbable and fast acting; just drop the dosage directly into your dog’s mouth, or on a favorite treat. Finally, CBD sprays, like Earth Buddy’s new Quick Calm Spray, are perfect for firework fear. The raw plant extract is emulsified and mixed into distilled water for faster absorption, producing the desired calming effect much faster than traditional oil-based extracts and treats.
CBD Safety: Unlike prescription anxiety medications, CBD products don't have nasty side effects. They’re safe, easy to use, and relatively fast acting. Current studies show no signs of possible CBD overdose in dogs.
When to Give CBDs: If your dog is already benefiting from CBDs, simply use as you normally do. Or, administer your chosen product’s recommended dosage 15-30 minutes before the festivities are expected to start. Dosage will depend on the specific product you’ve chosen to use: spray, oil, or treat.
So there you go. Some easy to follow advice on how to best enjoy this super fun, but sometimes scary, holiday with your dogs. I do hope you’ll stop in to Divide Feed to pick up some of the chewy treats and CBD products I’ve mentioned here, and have a safe, enjoyable holiday.
DISCLAIMER: The recommendations in this blog post are not a replacement for veterinary care if your dog’s fear and anxiety symptoms are severe enough to pose a threat to the health and safety of herself, you, and the other humans and animals in her life. The advice contained here is for mild to moderate symptoms that can easily be managed at home with extra attention and care. Dogs lash out when threatened, and when the threat is loud disembodied noises, we may not be ready to handle real aggression when it happens. If your dog is prone to dangerous behavior when stressed, please consider working with a licensed behavioral dog trainer, along with your veterinarian, for your dog’s best chance at a happy, well adjusted life.