Q: This will be our dog’s first summer. How do we best prepare him for the bustle of the summer season? More importantly, how do we prepare him for fireworks on the long weekend? Should we take him to an event so he can get used to them?
A: Socialization is critical for all dogs. Well-socialized dogs feel safe in the world. They can cope with all that life throws their way. This would include noisy and crowded environments such as the summer festivals. When it comes to fireworks, the short answer is no, you shouldn’t take a dog to a show as a means of socializing them to the noise.
Each year, after Victoria Day, lamp posts are covered with posters of lost dogs. Many of these dogs bolted when frightened by fireworks. While some people may insist that they take dogs to events with no ill effect, it’s a very high-risk strategy with potentially tragic consequences.
The issue with risky strategies, those that work for some dogs, is that it is much like texting and driving. Some people may claim that they have done so with no ill effect. Yet it’s clear that distracted driving is dangerous. We don’t make decisions on whether to text and drive based on how many people were lucky enough to get away with it. Rather, we look at the risk and harm done to those who paid the price.
Dog training has many similar situations. Bringing a dog into a crowded and overwhelmingly noisy fireworks show is a strategy that has potentially tragic consequences. It matters not if some dogs survived the process. What matters is that it is clearly harmful for many dogs and thus best not done.
Good socialization exposes puppies to a variety of things in a positive manner. The mistake families typically make is that they favour their own neighbourhood. It’s convenient. Others might enjoy strolling through forested areas thinking the hikes are enjoyable for their pets. While that might be true, it can limit socialization.
People who live in rural areas should plan to take walks in urban areas. Families who live in communities with predominantly young families should go for walks where the demographic has more seniors. The reverse is also true. Walk through different ethnic communities. Look for dog-friendly stores. Hardware, farm supply stores and many automotive shops allow dogs. Call ahead to check their policy. Such places open the door to new experiences. The lesson is that people, all people, in all places, are safe.
Add a variety of sounds to the mix. Apps and online recordings can be helpful in this regard. Play sounds of babies crying, construction sounds, door bells and more. Do include fireworks as well as thunder. Start with the volume low. Gradually, as the dog bores with the sounds, increase the volume.
Notice that many scary sounds are terrifying because they surprise the dog. When playing sounds, make sure to give periods of quiet followed by a surprise sound. It mimics real life much better this way. Again, start with the volume low and work up.
Before hitting the streets, check that collars and leashes are in good repair and fit correctly. Dogs can slip out of collars and harnesses. Use white noise to block overwhelming noise during the holiday. Walk early or late when it is quieter.
In the meantime, remember that fireworks are for people to enjoy. Give dogs the night off and keep socialization within the dog’s comfort level. Going to the show runs the risk that it terrifies the puppy, doing exactly the opposite of what families had hoped it would do.
Yvette Van Veen is a Dorchester-based writer and a contributor for the Star. Reach her via email: [email protected]
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