Even with an established routine, dogs will experience stressful moments due to things out of our control. Loud fireworks, thunderstorms, hurricanes, and earthquakes are a few examples! In fact, more pets go missing on July 4 than any other day of the year making July 5 the busiest time for many shelters. During these situations, there are a few things you can prepare to help your pup feel more comfortable and keep them safe.
1.Mental and Physical Exercise beforehand: The motto “a tired pup is a happy pup” applies here as well! But it’s not as simple as going for a 10 mile run and wishing for the best. Don’t overdo the exercise and overexert your pup. Even when stressed, a tired pup can still be fearful. The goal is to minimize excess energy. For example, if your dog normally gets two 30 min strolls per day, then add in a one hour session of tug, fetch, frisbee, or go for a light jog with multiple breaks. Include mental stimulation exercises such as training, scent hunt games, and interactive toys to challenge your pup, keep them busy and distracted, and wear them out.
2.Keep your pup indoors: When dogs feel threatened, they will go into the fight-or-flight response where a lot of their reasoning and control goes out the window. Many dogs will harm themselves trying to escape a situation or be able to jump fences they haven’t been able to clear before! Regardless of how secure your yard is or if they’re tied down to a tree, don’t take the risk and leave your dog outside. Many pets that go missing escape from our own property.
3.Crate your pup: Even if you keep your pup indoors, there’s also a risk of them escaping through open doors! During a busy holiday with guests coming in and out and unaware of your dog, your dog might find an escape route when they’re afraid. This is why kennels and crates are a sanity saver for dog owners and it’s a good thing dogs naturally enjoy being in a den-like setting! If your dog is properly crate trained, they will view their crate as a sanctuary where they will feel safe, undisturbed, and protected. Keeping your dog crated during a night of fireworks or a storm can help calm them down.
4.Give them a chew: Even better when combined with a crate, you can give your dog a chew (bonus if it’s in an interactive toy!) A yummy raw meaty bone or air-dried super chew will keep your pup busy. Especially because chewing releases endorphins (hormones that trigger a positive feeling) which will make your pup feel better during a thunderstorm for example. Usually this will work best if you give the chew before your pup feels scared. Capture their calmness and give them a meaty chew a few minutes to an hour before. Make sure not to leave them alone with a chew, supervision is always important!
5.Calming supplements: Sometimes, chews and interactive toys in a crate aren’t enough for the extremely fearful pups. A nervous dog won’t have the appetite for treats and food and will cower, shiver, whine, pace, and make escape attempts. There are a myriad of calming supplements on the market and every dog is different, there is no one miracle product that works on every pet! If you know your dog has a history of bad experiences with fireworks, start doing research on your options beforehand and do test runs to see how your pup reacts to each type, how long it lasts, and how much they need. Calming supplement options include melatonin (hormone that makes them sleepy), valerian (calming herb for dogs only), L-tryptophan/L-theanine (amino acids), chamomile (calming herb), and rescue remedy (flower essence). Remember to only give your dog calming supplements specifically formulated for dogs and not humans.
6.CBD: Cannabidiol is the non-psychoactive extract from hemp. It can reduce stress, anxiety, and also help with pain relief and inflammation. For many pups where common marketplace supplements don’t work, many owners report anecdotal success with using CBD as a calming aid. CBD can come in the form as treats and oils. Remember to try the product first, for example a few weeks before July 4 or New Year’s Day. CBD has little to no side effects and cannot be overdosed which is another reason why many pet parents like to use it instead of other prescribed anxiety medications. Give the oil or treats 30 minutes to 1 hour before. Effects last about 4-6 hours and dosage will depend on your pup’s metabolism. For best effects, use CBD oil formulated for dogs and apply drops under the tongue or onto their gums on an empty stomach.
7.Thundershirt: The thundershirt and other doggy vests that help to reduce stress and anxiety using pressure, based off hug machines that are used therapeutically for humans with autism to provide sensory relief and have also been used for cattle (squeeze chutes). The constant, light pressure can help some dogs feel more calm. As mentioned, accustom your dog to the shirt first before using it during a stressful event. Some dogs feel more uncomfortable in clothing and can make the situation worse!
With so many ways to help keep your dog calm, you’ll be able to find the one that works best for your pup and situation! Set your pup up for success by desensitizing them to sounds of thunder and fireworks (months) ahead of time! You can play sound bytes of these noises from DVDs or videos and start at a very low volume, then reward a calm or uninterested reaction with treats! Remember, don’t give up if a product or method doesn’t work well for you as there are many options out there. Keep your pet records such as microchip information and dog ID tag information up to date so that if your dog gets out, they can be returned to you. Lastly if your dog has a history of being an escape artist or a bolter, it’ll be best to keep them contained and supervised at all times for your pup’s safety!