Life isn’t so bad here in Spokane.
An anxious dog doesn’t get faced with too many weather systems that bring a lot of bang-bangs out of the sky. Bella, whom I wouldn’t class as a “anxious dog” but certainly has her moments, doesn’t care for our excessively windy days.
From a weather perspective, the worst we face are those awful windstorms and a dry, hot-as-hell summer.
Yeah, we get a few bad snowstorms every once in a while but you have to remember, I grew up on the east coast of Canada. I’m talking about snowstorms where the drifts piled up to the top of the telephone poles.
(Kids, back in the day, we had these things called landlines and we needed wires stretching from house to … oh, never mind.)
And yeah, those hot-as-hell summers bring some deadly, destructive wildfires.
So we aren’t entirely out of the woods but when it all boils down to it, we have some pretty benign weather here in the Inland Northwest.
Take a trip down memory lane
Calgary gets some pretty fantastic thunderstorms. I recall one summer we even had tornado warnings south of the city. I texted my friend who lived in the southeast quadrant and said, “Get your ass in the basement now.”
Every time one of those fantastic thunderstorms rolled in – which was too often to count on one hand, thanks to turbulent weather systems coming over the gorgeous Rocky Mountains – I found myself hiding in the closet with a Maremma sheepdog.
Shep hated the sky boom-booms.
I became such a doting Maremma mama that I would see the clouds rolling in at my office on Barlow, pack my bags and say “SEE YA” to my team. They had all met Shep, loved him and knew where I was headed.
Home. To hide in the closet. And comfort my shivering boy.
Bella is a little more fierce, a little more impervious to thunder. When she was a puppy, we would sit in the front window of our house in Spokane Valley and watch the lightning flash.
Today she sleeps through most thunderstorms.
But when the wind picks up … whoa, Nelly. She becomes one of the most anxious dogs I’ve ever seen.
I don’t have to hide in the closet, but I do have to have an 85-pound chunk of white fur cowering under my desk.
Damn beautiful, colorful starbursts in the sky
Now fireworks are a whole different problem.
For 10 days every July, Calgary hosts the world-famous Stampede, a festival of rodeo, fairways and all-around debauchery. The Stampede features fireworks every night.
Every damn night.
That was 10 damn nights of hiding in the closet because fireworks, when you live close enough to the park, are just like thunderstorms.
For 10 damn nights.
Bella does take after Shep about fireworks. She hates them.
She shakes like a leaf and cowers under my desk or in my husband’s office, counting every second until they’re over.
No matter that we live well enough away from any of the municipal celebrations for Independence Day …
No matter that setting off fireworks anywhere within Spokane County has been illegal for the last 30 years …
We have idiots in our neighborhood that light up the skies like they’re their own city. And typically, they do it every night for three nights – July 3-5. Sometimes longer, if the holiday falls on a weekend.
How to help anxious dogs on holiday weekends
Dogs usually don’t like loud noises and sounds. Anxious dogs and some breeds of dog really suffer during thunderstorms and fireworks displays.
Here are a few ways you can keep your dog a little happier this holiday weekend.
1. Keep your dog secure
When anxious dogs are scared, they slip very easily into the “flight” reaction of “fight or flight.” They want to run away from the noise. If you’ve left your dog outside during a night of fireworks or a thunderstorm, they will do everything they can to escape. They’ll dig under the fence or find a way to fly over it.
I don’t know how many “missing dog” reports I’ve seen on Facebook the morning after a night of fireworks. It’s also a good idea to make sure your dog is microchipped.
2. Get out of Dodge
I was just telling a friend the other day that if I had my time back, I would have taken Shep out of Calgary for those 10 days every July. That way he wouldn’t have to suffer. Coulda, woulda, shoulda. It isn’t even the best idea this summer with gas at $5 a gallon but a few nights out of town and somewhere quiet with your anxious dog wouldn’t be the worst idea.
3. Have a quiet, safe space in your home
Hiding in the closet isn’t the best idea but it did work for Shep and me. He would lay his head on my legs while his favorite workaholic pounded away on her laptop. Today, we will go downstairs into the basement with Bella where the boom-booms are a little bit dulled. Make sure it’s a familiar spot and have treats and toys handy for the traumatic event.
4. Desensitize your dog well in advance
Try playing a recording of fireworks at a low level for short periods multiple times a day and then reward calm behavior with treats. If you have extremely anxious dogs, though, make sure you consult a dog trainer or behaviorist, like Stephanie at Pawsitive Connections, for expert advice.
5. A tired dog is a happy dog
Get a good day of exercise in before the bang-bangs start. Go for a long walk or hike, hit the park for some frisbee throws or do whatever to get your puppy pooped by nightfall.
But holy shit, if someone starts lighting off those firecrackers early, have a slip-proof collar or secure harness and be ready to beat feet.
And prepare yourself. I will not walk Bella anymore unless I’m wearing a good sports bra and running shoes because I have been dragged by a terrified, very strong 85-pound dog and it is no fun.
6. Crank up the tunes
Turn on your favorite station on Sirius XM (I’m a metal fan so I’m usually tuned to Turbo or Octane) or settle in to binge watch some brain candy on Netflix. Just turn up the volume a little extra to drown out the sound of the fireworks. Your anxious dog might not even notice them if they’re already suffering through some Five Finger Death Punch.
7. Get your dog stoned
OK, I don’t mean puffing some secondhand bong breath in your dog’s face. That’s just wrong. Robin Williams talked about it in his 1984 standup special, Live. It might be worth a shot to get some good CBD, or cannabidiol, the nonpsychoactive extract in the marijuana plant.
CBD can have positive effects for a anxious dog, including alleviating stress, hypertension and joint pain. I haven’t tried CBD on Bella, but friends have used it with their pups. If I were to try it, I would head straight to Pawpular Companions in Liberty Lake and talk to Carl and Mara for expert advice.
8. Don’t fuss over your anxious dog
This is the hardest part. When you see your dog upset, you want to cuddle and coddle her. Maybe I made that mistake with Shep, teaching him that hiding in the closet with Mama is a safe space.
If we’re constantly consoling them, though, or getting stressed ourselves about idiot neighbors, our dogs will know something is wrong. And that makes it all worse. Just stay calm and reassure your dog in a calm, positive manner.
With Bella, I’ll still let her join me under my desk because the closer we are physically, the more relaxed I am too. But I can’t let her distress be a time suck because I’m still a workaholic. Plus ça change, plus ça là même chose.
All around the circle
Boy, I hope that helps you get your anxious dog ready for next weekend’s rounds of fireworks in your neighborhood.
If you want to head out and leave your pup at home (strongly advised, re-read No. 5), Visit Spokane has a list of local spots where legal fireworks are on display.
We’ll be staying home with our baby girl. We aren’t much for crowds and bang-bangs anyway. Plus, I work most weekend nights. Because workaholic.
In the meantime, let’s see how my friends in the worldwide pet photographers blog circle are planning a holiday weekend. Start with a visit to my homeland, Canada, with Toronto pet photographer Terri Jankelow, sharing some ideas for celebrating Canada Day with your dog while keeping safety in mind.
When you get to the bottom of Terri’s post, click the link for the next post in the blog circle. Keep that up on everyone’s post until you find yourself back here to my ideas for helping your anxious dog feel safe and secure on the holiday weekend.
That’s when you know you’re home.
Right where you belong.