It is that time of year again.  As dusk approaches the sound of snaps, crackles and pops begin to interrupt the silent night.  We who have sound sensitive dogs know how downright scary it is and have rituals in place for helping them through.

For those with unflappable dogs, it is just another holiday, right?  Maybe.  As it turns out, even those dogs can develop sound sensitivities.  They may start to get anxious and skittish and show signs of anxiety that include trembling, panting, cringing, shaking and trying to hide.  So what can you do?

The firework prevention and management freak out guide for both the unflappable and fraidy’s in your lives.  This guide will help keep your unflappable’s fireworks proofed and provide extra management and relief strategies for the known sound sensitive fraidy’s .

1.  Get some extra yummy special food rewards and have them on you at all times.  My favorite way to carry uber yummy rewards without getting all goobed up myself is to use a GoToob that I can load up with PB or tripe.  Yum!

2.  Create a safe quiet area for your dog to hang out. Where should this safe area be?  Let them decide.  It may be with you or their usual resting area, but it may also be in the bathtub or basement.  Help to make the spot they choose extra calm-inducing by drawing the blinds, turning on some soothing music or white noise, providing interactive food toys or extra goodies stashed for him to find if and when he is ready to eat.  Do not barricade or lock them in their area as this can have disastrous results that may lead to them harming themselves.

3.  Ensure your dog’s gear is fit properly and ID tags/chips are up to date. Those collars often get loose to the point where they can be slipped off our dog’s heads with a gentle tug.  Harnesses can get loose too with our daily walks.  And those ID tags we got them years ago or that microchip they got when we adopted them….well time to update them.

Microchips are one of the most effective tools we have for getting our dogs back home!  Make sure that information is up to date or they cannot be effective in bringing your buddy back home.  Not sure where to start with updating?  Here is a link that will help you determine which company produced and distributed your dog’s microchip and how to contact them.

4.  Ditch the idea that you can reinforce fear. That old chestnut is one that can take some time to crack with many people.  To put it into perspective, think of something that just makes your skin crawl.  For me, it is spiders.  Eek!  If you threw a spider on me and then said: “Get over it, it is just a spider.”  You can bet that a) I would not feel any better about the spider and b) I would seriously question our friendship!  If you were instead to go slow with me, take time for me to adjust to the idea of touching a spider and praise me for being brave (even when I wasn’t) well, then I might just feel better about spiders.

So, moral of the story is, when the scary snap, crackle, and pops occur, let fabulous food rain from the sky, NO MATTER WHAT YOUR DOG IS DOING.  This is the precious moment we have to create the ‘yay fireworks’ associations.  Fireworks = Fabulous Food Party!!!  (Oh, and by the way, this is scientifically proven!  There are professional journals and research data out there that back up this type of associative learning.  Science rules!  Check out Companion Animal Psychology for summaries of the latest research and direct links to the sources.)

5.  If you know your dog has a history of anxiety during this time of year, talk to your veterinarian. They can discuss the use of appropriate short-term medications with you to help your dog to relax and get through this.  *Note, please please please read this link by Dr. Marty Becker about the use of Acepromazine in fear contexts.

As I type this, my oh so sensitive girl Mary Lou is alternating between climbing onto my lap and lying in her crate as Through the Dog’s Ear music is playing and the GoToob dispenses PB goodness after every snap and crackle.

She is also quite persistent with her licking of me any chance she can get.  I would usually say “Thank you” to for the kisses and then manage the behavior by covering my arms, but not tonight.  Tonight I will be much more tolerant of her licking.   Some studies have linked grooming to increases in endorphins to the brain which assists with stress relief and from my observations, it helps her out.   A thorough bath via Mary Lou is on my scheduled activities for today.  The things we do for the love of dogs.