Fireworks Safety for Dogs

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

Most dogs are at least mildly afraid of the sound of fireworks. Some are more frightened. A few are downright terrified. No matter where your dog falls on the scale. It’s important to help your dog stay calm and keep him safe.

1. Staying Put. Make sure your dog doesn’t bolt off in terror when the fireworks start popping. July 4th is the single biggest day for dogs going missing (and being found as strays). Some dogs literally can’t find their way home because the run so far in fear. It’s best to make sure your dog is safely confined inside your home (not in the back yard). And keep his collar with current tags on him just in case.

2. Block the Sound. Many dogs do well in an interior downstairs room with carpet. This blunts the sounds from outside. Add some white noise like a fan or music, and you may be good to go. Include your dog’s bed and a nice chew toy or stuffed Kong toy for added comfort. Make sure your dog has peed and pooped before the big fireworks get going. If you need to take him out later, do so on-leash for added safety.

DSC000173. Calm from within. Some dogs are inconsolable when it comes to the sound of fireworks. These are also the dogs who often have thunder phobia, too. Your vet can prescribe short acting anti anxiety medication that can definitely help. My dog, Stewie, takes medication for thunderstorms and fireworks. It has no side effects and it helps him a great deal.

Do not take your dog to a fourth of July party or fireworks display with the idea of “getting him used to it.” I’ll be blunt here. It won’t help. In fact it will likely make the problem worse. Better to enjoy the day with your fellow humans – and let your dog chill out as best he can.

Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston, TX. He specializes in rehabilitating aggressive dogs and dogs with issues related to fear.

Dog Bite Prevention

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

None of us expects our dogs to bite. Even folks who have dogs who’ve bitten before are still sometimes surprised by their dog’s behavior. The reason is simple. Most dogs don’t bite, and those who do tend to do so infrequently and in very specific circumstances. We’ll get to that last part in a bit.

The best way to prevent bites from our own dogs is early intervention. No surprise there. Teaching young puppies important life skills and exposing them to the human world in thoughtful ways can prevent tons of problems, most notably aggression. Puppy classes for young pups (as young as 8 weeks) are an essential start.

StellaFaceAs your dog matures, the most important bite prevention skill humans should have is awareness. Notice your dog. Specifically, notice what frightens him or makes him uncomfortable. Fear fuels aggression. We can often prevent outbursts (and bites) by simply avoiding situations that scare our dogs. Otherwise, we can help our dogs around those situations. Ideally, we’ll help our dogs though the scary parts of life with some long-term training and behavior help.

Fear is the most common cause of bites, but it’s not the only one. Dogs in pain often bite people (we could argue that that’s fear of escalated pain, but I digress). Dogs who covet or guard food, objects, locations, and sometimes people can also bite (fear of losing those things? – Okay I’ll stop). Even in these cases, our job as dog guardians is still awareness. Avoiding, Working Around, and Working Through still apply. Be your dog’s advocate and help diffuse situations that frighten him.

Avoidance. This one is sometimes controversial. We humans are stuck on the idea of mastering our dogs and making them do things. As a result we have trainers who intentionally expose dogs to things that frighten them so they can show the dog who’s boss. Nonsense. If there’s something that upsets your dog and you can easily avoid it, do so. Keep the dog in another room, behind a solid door, or on a leash – away from the people he’s most likely to bite. That’s prevention.

Work Around. Many dogs can tolerate frightening situations if the scary thing (person) isn’t too close or too active. For short-term bite prevention, moving your dog away from the scary thing is always helpful (leash). Calming the environment (including our own human behavior) is also very helpful. Humans who don’t move, who avoid looking at the dog, and who don’t speak to the dog are doing great work. We teach children to stand like a tree: hold their feet still like roots, wrap their arms around themselves like branches, look down, and remain silent. They’re diffusing the situation and preventing a possible bite.

Work Through. This is training for longer-term bite prevention. We can teach dogs to behave better (not biting) in three ways:

  1. Teaching Tasks – This involves teaching your dog how to respond to situations that used to result in conflict, fear, or anxiety. It’s obedience training. But, some of the tasks are specifically designed to help dogs relax (resist the impulse to lash out). Note: the only way to successfully teach frightened and potentially aggressive dogs is with positive reinforcement training. Using physical punishment or intimidation will likely increase aggressive behavior.
  2. Teaching Confidence – This is about teaching your dog that situations (and people) that were frightening or upsetting are actually not so bad. Because we train with reward-based methods, your dog learns that whenever a new situation presents itself that we humans become joyful, praising and generous with food. This is called “classical conditioning,” and it occurs even as you teach tasks.
  3. Teaching your dog to make good choices (self control) – Our dogs should never be forced to “handle” or “get used to” a situation that is frightening or upsetting (see “Avoidance” and “Work Around” above). We can expose our dogs to situations in a calm setting and at a safe distance. In this way we give our dog the option to make good behavior choices on his own. Because we’ve taught him useful tasks and helped him learn to be less frightened, we are setting him up to make appropriate choices. Trainers of wild and exotic animals have known about the importance of choice in training for a long while. An educated and experienced dog trainer can help you better understand and apply it as well.

During training many dogs learn to wear a muzzle. Muzzles prevent bites by keeping the dog’s teeth away from human flesh. The Muzzle Up Project on Facebook is a great resource for us humans to learn about the use and importance of muzzles.

If your dog has already bitten someone, or many people, please see a veterinary behaviorist or behavior consultant. You can prevent future bites. This blog is a start, but it’s not enough. You’ll need more help. Fortunately, that help is available.

Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston TX. He specializes in aggression and other behavior related to fear in dogs.

How Physical Therapy Helped me Better Understand Dog Training

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

They call it an impingement, and as rotator cuff injuries go it’s not one of the bad ones. That information by itself inspires the deepest respect for my fellow middle aged weekend warriors who have serious shoulder injuries. I moved my arm the wrong way once and it impingementliterally floored me, took my breath away. I thought I was going to throw up. What kind of pain must the others be shouldering, the dislocations and the tears?

“Doctor, it really hurts when I do this.” I fully expected him to say, “Well, don’t do that anymore.” He actually didn’t say that. It’s an old joke that, when you think about it, is a bit condescending and wholly unsatisfying. And yet, it’s exactly what I’ve told countless clients who are struggling with dog behavior issues. My dog goes crazy when I take him on walks. (Don’t do that anymore). My dog bites me when I pet him (Don’t do that). He growls when I reach for his toy (Don’t). When my daughter’s friends run through the house… (Stop, please).

We trainers know the logic behind this. It’s called antecedent control. If we can shut down what’s triggering the dog, the behavior stops. We get a break. It really is part of the solution. I had stopped doing what really hurt the most long before I went to the doctor – reaching, reaching up and to the side, or bending low and reaching far like the time I tried to get my dog’s ball from under the sofa. That kind of pain makes it hard to get back up. Don’t do that anymore, right?

If you’ve never been, physical therapy is like going to a gym where everyone gets a personal trainer, an assistant personal trainer, and an intern. Insurance pays for it and the weights are pretty light. I liked it right away. It also helped me better understand dog training. Avoiding the shoulder pain was a good idea – just like sequestering a violent dog is a smart move. But it’s a bit unsatisfying. What’s the rest of the solution? The answer kind of surprised me – and I was surprised that it surprised me because of how closely in parallels dog training.

puppy-potty-trainingMany (okay most) of my clients think we are taking their hair-trigger cute-faced biter out into the world on our first visit to “see what happens.” As a trainer, I know that makes no sense. So, why did I think physical therapy for my shoulder was going to involve my shoulder directly – triggering the pain, stretching my arm behind my back, reaching for the peanut butter jar? What silly patient I was.

I’m not a doctor or a physical therapist, but here’s my understanding. Healing an injured joint is all about building the supporting muscles around the joint. Its also about relaxing the joint and creating room for easier motion. And all this involves teaching the body new behaviors, how to fire oft ignored muscles, how to sit and stand with better posture. For my shoulder it was all about working on my back. Go figure.

Sure, this was just a bit confusing at first, but so enlightening too. How odd it must seem to dog training clients when we begin teaching their angry dog obedience cues, impulse control exercises, and relaxation protocols. We know, but do we fully explain, that we’re teaching the dog behaviors that will support them when they feel the most stress or fear?We’re helping them self-regulate and relax so they can make better behavior choices when it matters most. Sometimes it doesn’t look at all like teaching the dog stop lunging, or biting, or growling. It’s about teaching new behavior and loosening the dog up around the problem area. Go figure.

Physical therapy, like dog training, can be challenging. There are regular visits and homework. Lots of homework. All these exercises for my back, teaching my scapula to move correctly, my chest to open up, my spine to curve correctly. In therapy and in dog training both, we break it down into individual tasks and build little by little. The dog attends to his owner more closely, targets the mat and her hand, follows better on leash, sits and lies down and stays. The routine gets boring at times – every day – more practice.

It’s hard sometimes to make the connection between the work and the goal. Maybe you notice, maybe you don’t, one day when your dog stays calm when another dog passes, walks away when you reach for his toy, snores peacefully when your kids’ friends run through the house. Maybe all you think about is that first warm cup when you reach for the coffee grinder, high up on the second shelf. You take your first sip before you realize – it didn’t hurt.