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While the 4th of July can be fun day for humans, for many pets it is one of the most stressful times of the year. In fact, most animal shelters see a 30-40% increase in strays around the 4th of July! Don't let your pet become another statistic. Follow these 4th of July Pet Safety & Training Tips to teach your pet to calmly ride out storms and fireworks and to keep them as safe as possible during the Independence Day celebrations.
4th of July Training Tips for Pets
Ideally, training to prepare your pet for the 4th of July will begin several months before to set your pet up for success. Don't worry! Even if it's the week of the 4th when you are reading this, any training is better than none!
Structured Exercise: Regular, structured exercise will help your pet to remain calmer in general. Aim for 30-60 minutes of structured exercise each day. If you have the time, increase that exercise the week or two leading up to the 4th! The less energy your pet has to dedicate to nervous or anxious behaviors, the better. Structured exercise works out both your pet's brain AND their body, and puts the handler in a leadership role. Options include loose leash walking, fetch, flirt pole, tug, agility, and more! Adding in structure through obedience and manners will exercise your pet's mind more than just letting them run around freely in your fenced in yard. Can you do both? Even better!
Place: Teaching your pet to relax calmly in their crate is one of the most useful life skills you can give them. A dog that can remain calm in their crate can easily be contained when their family needs to evacuate after a natural disaster, a cat that can chill quietly in their crate will be much happier on their yearly trip to the vet, and place is especially useful around the 4th of July! Making the crate a happy place can help your pet to have a safe place to retreat to during the fireworks. Feed your pet in their crate to build up a positive association with the crate, and practice a "place" command that teaches your pet to go into their crate, lay down, calm down, and stay there until released. Remember to practice place both with the crate door open and closed for optimum success! [Need help teaching your pet to master place? Check out the Place video tutorial in The Ultimate Guide to Actually Enjoying Your Next Adventure with Your Pet!]
The Calm Down: The Calm Down is a relaxation drill that teaches your pet to calmly disengage from all of the distractions around them. This is one of those drills that is definitely best begun well before the 4th, but even a week or so of practice will make a difference! To begin, you'll start out in the calmest room of the house with your pet and a leash. For dogs, you'll clip the leash to their flat collar. For cats, you'll clip it to their harness. You'll stand in the middle of the room (away from any distractions or furniture) and then... you wait. Without giving your pet any direction whatsoever, you will wait for your pet to be completely calm. They should lay down, with their tail and head down. Their nose and ears should be still. They shouldn't be whining or panting. Their eyes should be soft and blinky. You'll keep waiting until they break from that total calm. AND THEN... you keep waiting! Wait until your pet is fully calm a second time! As your pet gets faster and faster at completing this drill, you'll be able to add in one distraction at a time until your pet is able to quickly relax around distractions without you having to tell them what to do. [Need help teaching your pet to master The Calm Down? Check out The Calm Down tutorial in The Ultimate Guide to Actually Enjoying Your Next Adventure with Your Pet!]
Door Manners: Adding door manners to your daily routines is a simple step that may just save your pet's life! Every time you go through a door or a gate that is usually closed, make sure your pet sits and gives you eye contact before you give them permission to go through the doorway. Make sure to really focus on this with your outside doors and any gates in your fence. If your pet always has to sit before they go in or out of the doorway, you are helping them view that line as a threshold that cannot be crossed without permission. While that may not stop a panicked pet, it might just get them to pause long enough for you to intervene and save them!
Recall: Just in case your pet does get loose around the 4th of July, you're going to want to make sure that they do excellent job of coming back when you call! Start practicing recall NOW indoors, on leash. Sloooooowly increase the levels of distraction until you can call your pet away from anything! Important Note: Be picky during recall practice! Make sure that your pet always comes all the way to you, sits in front of you, and allows you to grab their collar or harness before you reward them for recall. Being strict about enforcing that now means that if you need to tell your pet to come in a life or death situation, they will actually get close enough for you to whisk them away to safety.
4th of July Safety Tips for Pets
Photograph: Make sure to take a current photo of your pet, just in case! Make sure the photo includes any distinctive markings. When I was a shelter worker, it always blew my mind when owners came in searching for a lost pet with no clear picture of their pet because if you're anything like me, you have at least 3000 pictures of your pet on your phone. But then I remember there are people in the world like Billy who barely has any photos of me, let alone our pets! Add a reminder to your phone or calendar to take updated photos of your pet each year. These photos will come in handy if you pet ever does get lost. Does your pet have heterochromatic eyes or a group of spots in a smiley face shape on their side? Make sure to include those things in the picture to help others identify your pet!
ID: No matter how careful you are, accidents happen. If your pet gets lost, ID tags with your current information attached to their collar may help them get home before they even reach the shelter. However, collars, harnesses, and tags can get caught and fall off if your pet is ever on the run. Microchips are the most secure form of pet ID. Make sure to ask your vet to check that the microchip is functional and in the proper place during your pet's yearly exam. Keeping the information attached to your pet's microchip up to date is very important! Many microchipped pets remain in the shelter because their owner never registered the microchip online or never updated to their current contact information. Don't get tricked into paying money to keep your pet's microchip up to date! Found.org is a free microchip registry that makes it easy to maintain your pet's information, including photos, as well as your contact information.
Watch: Watch your pets whenever they are outside! This is a good idea to do all year long (yes, even if your yard is fenced in), but it is especially important around the 4th of July. Maybe a gate was left open, another panicked animal wound up in your yard, or the batteries on your pet's invisible fence collar died... A panicking pet can escape the most secure containment system! Stay outside and monitor your pets whenever they are outside around the 4th of July. Try to keep them safely indoors as much as possible, especially at night when fireworks are more likely to be set off.
Stay: While we love spending time with our pets, there are plenty of times when it is actually best for them to stay behind at home. Fireworks, music festivals, or heading to a cookout at friend's house with a pet that doesn't get along with yours are all examples of times when it is probably best for our pets to stay home. Leave your pet a home during the fireworks and festivities. Provide them with a safe spot where they can go to calm down -- preferably a bed or crate where you have already practiced place! If your pet has severe fireworks anxiety (or if they are so new that you aren't sure if they do or not), stay home with your pet to keep them safe.
Distract: If you do need to leave your pet at home during the fireworks, leave some distractions! Crank your pet's favorite music or tv show to help mask the firework noises. Freeze some yummy treats in a puzzle feeder that you can safely leave with your pet or hide treats all over the pet-safe room you'll be leaving them in. You know your pet's favorite distractions best! Remember, if your pet has severe anxiety you may just need to stay home with them until you are able to help them manage their anxiety with training and/or medication.
If your pet goes missing:
No matter how carefully you train and prepare your pet for the 4th of July, there's always a chance something may go wrong and they may wind up missing. Make sure you know who to ask for help if your pet goes missing. Please be patient! 4th of July week is a busy time for all those involved in animal rescue. If your pet goes missing, contact your local dispatch center and animal shelters ASAP. Local laws vary, so your pet may not be required to be held for very long before being made available for adoption. Remember to be kind! The shelter employees will be busy, and they really do care about each and every animal in their care. If your pet went missing near a county or city line, make sure to contact the surrounding shelters too.
Once you've let the local shelters know, it's time to make flyers about your lost pet! Include the recent photos you took of your pet's distinctive markings, the nearest crossroads they went missing around, and your contact information. Distribute the flyers around your area. Make sure to also find the Facebook groups for missing pets in your area to help get the word out. If you do spot your missing pet, don't chase them! Sit down on the ground with their favorite smelly treat or even turn and walk away from them to encourage them to follow you. Following all these tips will help to keep your pet safe and happy this 4th of July! Don't forget to snap a picture of your pet in their patriotic gear. I'd love to see your patriotic pet pictures or even the pictures of your pet's distinctive markings here in the comments or on the King's Creatures Facebook page!
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