The Big Bang: Managing Your Dog’s Fear of Fireworks

flag and firecracker

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Anyone following Sasha’s journey knows my Sheltie is no fan of noise. She was hypersensitive to clickers, coffee grinders, and any number of household sounds. (Want to know how we’re managing those? Catch up on that part of her journey here.) So it’s no surprise that fireworks invoke an Aaugh!!! reaction.

Before the storms rolled in last night and sent the celebrants scurrying for cover, it seemed half the neighborhood was setting off bottle rockets, roman candles, cherry bombs, and any other sort of firecrackers guaranteed to delight thrill-seekers. Everyone else? Not so much.

We’d done our best to create a calm environment for the holiday weekend. Even without knowing Sasha’s past, we already knew Buddy the Cat’s attitude toward fireworks. Buddy was a rescue who came to us at just three months of age, so we’ve had lots of time to create positive experiences for him. Still, those first three months on his own are etched in his memory, and the Feral Cat Within emerges in times of stress or pain and his first instinct is to hide.

My Rescue Kitty Buddy

“Make that noise go away, Momma!”

We’ve managed his anxiety by keeping fans running and doors and windows closed, Willie Nelson on the stereo (Buddy’s a big fan) and a movie he gets to choose from the cabinet. (Hey, everyone gets a vote in this household!)  He still dives under the covers now and then, but that tends to happen when he just feels the need for solitude. As those solitary periods tend to coincide with linen change, I suspect he’s successfully overcome his early trepidation.

Sasha, in contrast, was on high alert and making the rounds with every bang until I distracted her with beef jerky strips–something new for her. An instant hit, making me grateful once again for all the delicious treats we received as part of Sasha’s goody bag at the Humane Society of the Ozarks’ annual Dogwood WalkAnd since Sasha’s idea of her “safe place” is wherever I am, I positioned her bed next to my recliner, close enough so she could snuggle as she liked. Once she realized the rest of us were calm and relaxed, she settled into her bed to enjoy the movie.

Not every cat or dog has the same luxuries during fireworks season. Some reports suggest dogs can be frightened by the fireworks and often escape the yard, winding up lost, injured, or worse. I hope you’re taking whatever precautions you can to keep your furry family members safe and secure this weekend. As this graphic from http://www.thatpetblog.com/ shows, being prepared and holding to a relaxed routine can go a long way toward helping pets:

pet safety 4th july

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Here are more useful tips to help keep your dog safe, courtesy of the Such Good Dogs blog:

Have ID on your pet:
This is the number one most important thing!  More pets run away on July 4th than any other day of the year.  Be sure that your pet has proper identification tags with updated contact information.  On the 4th, be sure to keep your pet on a leash and keep a close eye on him when out and about.

Preparation:
The best thing to do for a dog that gets nervous, anxious, or fearful during fireworks is to properly prepare BEFORE the day arrives.

Try Lavender Oil:
Lavender is a naturally calming scent for both humans and dogs.  I have recommended lavender in the past for dogs with arthritis.  To use lavender for your dog, take some time to give your dog a massage and give some good petting.  Put just a little dab of lavender oil on your hands before massaging your dog and/or petting him in his favorite spots.  Use nice, calm, slow strokes.  Slowly massaging the outsides of the spine from the neck down is another proven approach.  Be sure not to use a lot of lavender.  A little dab will do just fine.  You do not need a lot to get the smell, and we do not want to have dogs licking excessive amounts of oil off themselves.  The point of this exercise is to associate the smell of lavender with a nice calm, relaxed state of mind.  You should do this for a few days (or more) prior to the fireworks on July 4th.  Your dog will build an association to the smell of lavender and being relaxed and calm.  Before the fireworks begin, put your dog in his “safe place” with the scent of lavender.

Have a “Safe Place” for your dog:

For many dogs the thing that makes them feel best and most safe is to be able to get as far away from the sights and sounds as possible.  Have a spot ready that your dog will enjoy and be comfortable in.  Make it somewhere far away from outside walls and windows.  This will make it easier for him to relax.  The best thing would be a kennel or crate.  Dogs generally enjoy den-like enclosures, and having your kennel or crate set up before the 4th will help them have a nice spot to go.  It is also helpful to place sheets or towels over wire crates to help block sound and lights.  Be sure to take the temperature into consideration.  It is summer and things get hot quickly.  Do not make your “safe place” uncomfortable for your dog by making it too hot.  You are most looking for a den-like area for your dog to feel safe.  If possible feed and/ or treat your dog in this area prior to the 4th.  Make sure the area is lined with a bed or comfy blankets for your pup as well.
Also remember to try and give your dog something he enjoys to help occupy him such as a chew bone or Kong filled with some yummy treats or peanut butter.

Communication & Energy:
If you will be around your dog during the fireworks, the best thing you can do for them is to remember to remain calm and feel like the fireworks are no big deal.  Dogs react to energy.  If your energy is telling your dog that you are calm and not at all worried about the sights and sounds, your dog will feel that it is okay for him to relax as well.

Exercise your Dog before Dusk:

A fantastic way to help your dog is to thoroughly exercise him before the fireworks begin.  Be sure to get your evening walk in before it starts to get dark.  The less energy your dog has, the less energy he has to put towards being fearful.  A tired dog will be more comfortable and will be able to more easily ignore the sounds and sights of the night.
Read the entire article at the Such Good Dogs blog.
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The American Kennel Club always has helpful information about canine care, and they’re put together a sensible list that’s worth keeping for year-round reference. (New Year’s Eve, for example, often ends in a frenzy of fireworks.) Find that here. And here’s a great graphic, courtesy of the AKC, that sums up the key points to help keep our beloved pets safe. Wishing everyone a happy and safe celebration!
INFO_Fireworks_201507_Infogfx

All in a day’s fun

Strong winds pushed us to and fro this morning, making our daily walk more of an endurance test than an enjoyable stroll. We soon retreated to the relative shelter of the back yard where Buddy the Cat joined us for play time. (Note to self: buy a video camera to capture the antics of these two!)

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With storms on the horizon we headed inside for training time. Buddy joins us for every session and expects his share of treats, which of course he gets. After a quick review of the basics, we moved on to practice what we learned in our second Intermediate session. One thing we’re working on is the auto-sit, which Sasha seems to do naturally. (Have I mentioned how smart this dog is?)

We’re also working on the straight sit, something Sasha manages often but not always. The trainer showed us the skip-sit exercise, which involves holding the leash in your right hand and treats in the left, then stepping off with your right foot first and drawing your left foot up in alignment as you stop. By holding the treat at your left side, your dog should line up straight in the heel position. Moving your hand a bit left or right seems to help guide the dog into the desired straight position. We’d be making more progress here if I would remember to step off with my right foot as instructed. My challenge: that contradicts 20+ years of “left foot first” military training!

Fortunately, both of us were much more successful learning the place command. If this is a new one for you, too, here’s a video you might find helpful:

During our training sessions I use Blue Buffalo’s Blue Bits treats because they’re soft, moist, and I can easily break them into tiny bits. She’s partial to the salmon but likes the chicken, turkey, and beef treats, too, so I buy a combo pack. Sasha loves Fromm’s salmon-with-sweet-potato treats at the end of a workout; they’re crunchy and big enough to convince her it’s a well-earned reward.

Between six sessions of Basic Obedience, the Intermediate class (four sessions to go), and daily workouts, we go through a lot of treats! Since Sasha doesn’t share my preference for vegetarian fare and prefers the savory meat-flavored treats, our trainer suggested using hot dogs. I’m willing to give it a try if I can find a low-fat, low-calorie hot dog that’s not chock-full of icky artificial stuff. (Is there such a thing?) If making your own hot dog treats sounds like something you want to try, head for the kichen and your oven of choice.

Microwave: Start by cutting your hot dogs into small bits. For a dog of Sasha’s size, that might be the size of a nickel cut in half or even smaller. Line a paper plate with paper towels before spreading out the bits. Some folks prefer to cover the bits with another layer of paper towels to help absorb moisture and minimize any mess.

Cook times will vary depending on the amount of hot dog pieces and your microwave’s size/power settings; I’ve heard everything from 2 to 10 minutes. Cook until you reach desired crispness. (Sounds like careful monitoring is essential here!) Once prepared, these treats can be stored in an airtight container on the counter, refrigerated, or frozen.

Traditional oven: Some folks prefer to bake their treats. If that sounds appealing to you, here’s a video showing you the steps. Note you’ll still need to monitor the time to achieve the desired crispness!

Do you have a favorite homemade dog treat? Share in the comments!

Notes from a Graveyard Scholar

Ozark folklore is a recurring theme in my writing, and chasing down the old stories and tall tales has led me off the proverbial beaten path more than once. Sometimes, though, the stories fall right in my lap, as happened a few months ago when I attended the Books in Bloom Literary Festival and met Arkansas writer and independent researcher Abby Burnett.

Abby BurnettAbby has spent years researching death and burial customs, with much of that work presented in Gone to the Grave; Burial Customs of the Arkansas Ozarks, 1850 – 1950, published by the University Press of Mississippi. Other publications include entries for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture as well as articles for county historical societies. She lives in a log cabin in the Boston Mountains when she’s not out photographing tombstones in rural cemeteries. Here’s Abby, talking about her research and the ways we remember the pets who shared our lives…

The worn image on the tombstone in Hot Springs’ Hollywood Cemetery, lit up by afternoon sunlight, is puzzling. Is it a lamb? No, a dog – definitely a dog. A quick check of Stories in Stone; A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography, by Douglas Keister (Gibbs Smith, 2004) reveals the meaning: “The virtues of fidelity, loyalty, vigilance, and watchfulness have long been symbolized by man’s best friend.” Surely this was intended on the stone of B.B. Porter, who died at age 42 in 1882, but elsewhere across Arkansas, images of dogs found on modern granite markers don’t have the same meaning. “Nowadays when one sees a carved dog in a cemetery it is probably homage to a beloved pet,” Keister writes.

There is no lack of such homages in pet cemeteries, of course, where humans eulogize their beloved animals. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, here lies our little boy with ears of rust,” is the verse on the grave of Rusty Bucket Bumstead (1991 – 1994) in Rest Haven Cemetery, in Bentonville, Arkansas. Tributes to other dogs and cats include, “You left paw prints all over our hearts,” “Our ‘love sponge’” and “So loved, so loving, so missed.” In Friends of the Pet Cemetery, a considerably larger pet graveyard near Springfield, Missouri, are found these tributes: “He lived for love and food,” “Always a puppy” and, “Friend – Gentleman – Athlete.”

I spend a lot of time in cemeteries because I research and write about death and burial.  I transcribe epitaphs, photograph tombstones, and compile information on everything from the symbolism at the top of a stone to the name of the carver often found near the base. The most heartbreaking epitaphs, or poems, do not upset me but my outpouring of grief in pet cemeteries always catches me off guard.  After all, I live with four elderly dogs and two cats, volunteer at my county’s pet shelter, and serve on its board. Though I wouldn’t cross the street to admire a stranger’s baby, I just might dart across several lanes of traffic to pet a puppy.

This has led to a fascination with the way pets are portrayed on modern markers, ones for humans, that is. I’ve found artwork showing every dog breed imaginable, portraits or cartoons of pets, and dog and cat figurines placed on the markers. Most interesting of all are photoceramics, little disks imprinted with actual photographs then bonded to the front of a tombstone. Photoceramics were invented in France in 1854, and they’re rare in the Arkansas Ozarks’ oldest cemeteries. Perhaps they were too expensive, difficult to obtain, or easily broken. Some tombstones contain circular indentations, evidence of a vanished photoceramic. In modern times, however, these little photos are affordable, unbreakable and plentiful, so much so that some markers sport separate ones for each family member and the dog.

What to make of the photos people choose? One husband and wife’s marker contains a photo of each spouse holding up the same tiny Chihuahua. There’s the haunting photo of the young woman holding her cat against her shoulder, the girl’s face tinted a flesh color but the cat standing out in stark black and white. Though hunter and hound photos are plentiful, one man chose to use a shot of his three hounds treeing an unseen prey. One older photo shows a husband, wife, and dog where both the wife and the dog are leaning away from the beaming husband, as though afraid of him. (People who knew this family assure me that the man was not abusive but I don’t know why wife and dog look so wary.) Others are like hidden puzzles, where the pet is somewhere in the picture.

Occasionally a photoceramic will feature an unconventional pet. Brian Harness, buried in Maplewood Cemetery in Harrison, Arkansas is shown cradling a large fox. Given that Harness was a hunter and a professional taxidermist I thought he might be posing with an especially life-like example of his work. But no, an online obituary showed a different photo of the two, and mentioned that Mr. Harness was survived by his pet fox, Jasper. In this same cemetery a stone bench, at one side of the Johnson family plot, is decorated with a photo of a cow wearing a jaunty razorback-red beret with “Arkansas” knitted in. The most unusual creature is probably found in Hugo, Oklahoma, a town where various traveling circuses spent their winters. There a female snake-charmer is shown holding what appears to be a python with, “To each his own” carved above the frame.

Modern technology has made it possible to put anything – anything – on a tombstone: aerial photos, sonograms, NASCAR logos, the deceased Photo-shopped into a portrait with Jesus. Perhaps someday someone will study these images as seriously as I do study the meaning behind the Ozarks’ oldest symbols (anchors, clasping hands, broken columns). If so, those graveyard scholars will have to make sense of the large numbers of dogs and cats populating the tombstones of the people who loved them so much they considered them members of the family.

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Abby’s book was first published by the University Press of Mississippi in 2014 in hardcover, and is now available in paperback and Kindle editions as well. While she was researching the book, the Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) featured her in AETN’s “Silent Storytellers” program. This documentary featured people and organizations “who are passionate about the preservation of cemeteries and memorials in Arkansas.” Here’s the clip:

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Have an image or a story to share? Leave a comment!

For the Love of a Cat

Book #2 in my series introduces a feral feline who settles into the kennel office as though he’d been born there. He’ll take on the customer relations work scorned by Momma Cat–a stray who “came with the house” and prefers dogs to people. I suspect both cats will play a role in forthcoming books, and I hope readers will share their stories of their own felines. Watch this space for a new slideshow dedicated to kitties, and send in your own photos!

In keeping with our current conversation of pets we’ve loved and lost, I’m sharing the words of fellow Arkansas writer Nancy Hartney, who penned this moving tribute to her cat Rosie. Here’s Nancy:

As we age, our worlds take on a different dimension. Cats as well as people even my Rosie, my Second Hand Rose. Named after the song, she passed from hand-to-hand before I was approached to adopt her.

A calico, my first thought had been getting her spayed quickly, followed by I do not need another animal in a three cat, three dog, two-horse household. As fate ruled, she and I lived together twenty-one years.

From the beginning, Rosie ‘talked’ to me. Whenever she needed something, usually from the kitchen, she sat next to my chair before tossing patience aside and meowing until I got up and followed – yes, followed her—to see what she wanted/needed. Ears cocked listening for my footfalls behind and tail held high, she ‘told’ me what she wanted and where in the household it was expected. Generally, two choices reigned supreme—‘I need to go outside’ and ‘I want more food.’

She roamed the yard, the pasture, the barn, the woods. The queen of all she surveyed, she ruled with a velvet paw.She could watch nesting birds come and go feeding their brood, scale the tree, and dig in the nest for their tender hatchlings. Such times, I captured and relegated her to the house until said feathered family grew and took flight. Rabbits and mice also fell within her domain thus consigning her annually to several spring weeks inside while wild creatures grew to independence. Except at night when only the moles were in danger.

Years slipped by and her world narrowed and her ‘talking’ took on an intense hue. She rested in my lap at night watching TV. She sat on the bench next to me at the table and scoffed tidbits. She purred. Bedtime? Rosie waited until I rose from my chair and began the nightly routine then assumed her ‘place’ on the bed.

She spent time hanging in the country flowerbeds, sleeping on deck chairs, and sitting in the sunshine on my patio. Her furry family circle ebbed and flowed, old friends passed and new arrived. Arthritis set in. Joints enlarged. She prowled less in her woods. She missed the sandbox as often as she was on target. Nights consistently spent in. She no longer climbed trees and nor jumped from chair to deck railing to roof. She napped when outside. Ate less. Napped inside. Her days unevenly divided into eating and sleeping with scattered minutes of time reserved for pacing and ‘attending’ to the household.

August 10, 2015, Rosie’s world is re-formed. She roams her beloved woods, sits in the sunshine grooming, and meanders out on feline adventures. Again.

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Nancy Hartney is the author of the award-winning short story collection Washed in the Water: Tales From the SouthYou can read more about Nancy, her pets, and her writing on her blog https://nancyhartney.wordpress.com/.