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Keeping your Service or Working Dog Safe and Happy Over the 4th of July

In America, the 4th of July is a day full of celebration. With cookouts, parades, sparklers, crowds, fireworks, noise, activity, events and chaos galore, Independence Day can be difficult not only for pets, but also for working K-9s, Service Dogs, and their handlers. Before joining a holiday celebration with your canine partner, here are some points to consider.

Level of Training
It’s hard to enjoy an event if all of your focus has to be on your Service Dog. Carefully consider your Service Dog’s current level of training and how she handles crowds, chaos, unknown noises, close proximity, heavy distractions and circumstances beyond your control.

Training Should Begin Before the 4th
While a good Service Dog is able to handle nearly anything thrown their way, many Fourth of July events are overwhelming for even the best-trained dogs, let alone one who hasn’t been properly prepared for the bombardment of stimuli and distraction.  If you’re simply attending an event for “distraction proofing” or “socialization,” consider waiting for a less-hectic time. It’s simply not worth potentially setting back your Service Dog’s training by exposing her to circumstances she’s not ready for. Prepare to spend sufficient time training with your dogs in a safe, fenced-in area before taking your dog into crowds.

Noise Sensitivity
Fireworks and gun shots scare more dogs than they don’t, and both are common around the 4th of July. Whether you’re attending war re-enactments or pyrotechnic displays, the booms, smell of smoke and the heat can put your partner on edge. Ideally, your Service Dog has little to no noise sensitivity, but if that’s not the case, your pooch is likely to be so stressed by fireworks and the other loud noises commonly found at Fourth of July events that they’ll be unable to focus on you and their job. Through a Dog’s Ear offers some excellent noise desensitization CDs, including CDs for thunderstorms, fireworks, city sounds and others, but it’s a bit late to start that process now. ThunderShirts and Rescue Remedy also help to soothe anxious dogs.

Most importantly, if your partner is showing signs of stress, don’t admonish her or force her to participate. Just leave or allow your Service Dog the distance and space she needs to be comfortable, and begin training so that next year, you’ll both be able to enjoy the event.

Your Own Comfort
Assess your own comfort with the type of events you’re considering attending. Even if your Service Dog is trained to assist you with overstimulation, anxiety or panic, the constant degree of sensory bombardment can quickly wear both of you out. If you struggle with massive crowds, tons of visual/auditory/olfactory stimulus, and oppressive heat, consider attending a smaller event, or only partaking of the entertainment you’d really enjoy and like to see, instead of making a full day of it.

Tips for a Safe and Happy 4th
If you attend a Fourth of July celebration with your partner, be certain to not only keep your Service Dog’s comfort and abilities in mind, but also the following safety considerations.

  • Take a picture of your Service Dog in whatever gear she’ll be wearing to the event before you go, just in case. Make two copies. Keep one with you and leave one at home.
  • Check your Service Dog’s ID tags and ensure your contact information is up-to-date. Your partner can’t tell anyone who her human is, so her tag is her only chance to communicate. If you’re traveling, put scotch tape over her tag and write local contact information on it with permanent marker.
  • Check your Service Dog’s microchip registration information for up-to-date contact information.
  • If your partner works off-leash, consider utilizing a leash for the event. There will likely be thick crowds and a lot of movement, and something can happen quickly. To make a hands-free leash if necessary, simply thread the handle onto your belt.
  • Keep pick-up bags with you. Remember, you’re a Service Dog community ambassador.
  • It’s likely going to be HOT. Make sure you have a bowl available for your Service Dog’s use. A gallon freezer bag can easily be frozen before the event and allowed to melt through the day, and they’re thick enough to hold their form while your Service Dog drinks from them.
  • Most importantly, don’t be afraid to leave the Celebration if your Service Dog appears uneasy or frightened. Pay attention to you dog’s body language and always put your team’s comfort and safety first.
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