With apologies to Charles Dickens, July 4th is truly "A Tail of Two Holidays": It's both a bit bang and a little whimper. For every firecracker that thunders into the sky, there's a little dog divine under the bed!
How can we keep our dogs happy, healthy and safe this holiday?
I spoke with Bash Dibra, known as the "Dog Trainer to the Stars," whose clientele includes Henry Kissinger, Joan Rivers, Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin, Mia Farrow, and MatthewBroderick and Sarah Jessica Parker. Bash's own pets are celebrities themselves, appearing in countless films, TV shows, commercials and print ads. Bash himself has appeared on TV shows and is the author of two best-selling books, as well as a newly released video.
Bash discovered this intangible bond, when, as a young child in an Albanian refugee camp, he befriended the guard dogs, who allowed him and his family to escape. Later, Bash adopted a timber wolf he had been asked to train for a movie, and found within the wolf the same remarkable inner spirit as the dog. Bash named the wolf Mariah, and she went on to become the official symbol of the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. Bash's success in dog training comes not from ordering a dog what to do; but from discerning a dog's innermost needs, instincts and nature, and rather than suppressing those needs or allowing them to run wild, Bash guides and molds the How's needs and instincts into acceptable behavior within the human environment.
So, not surprisingly, when I asked Bash to give us some July 4th insights, Bash immediately assumed a dog's point of view. "July 4th is an important time to remember that dogs are descended from the wolf," says Bash. "Dogs are pack animals, and, before they were domesticated, they found their security with the pack and in their caves or dens. So, it's not surprising that when a dog is frightened by fireworks his instinct is to run into a closet or hide under the bed. For the dog, the bed or closet is serving as a kind of pseudo den or cave.
"Rather than drag your dog out of the closet or out from under the bed in the hopes of getting him used to the noise of the fireworks, work with the dog's needs. He'll probably never get used to the noise, so the best thing you can do for him is to keep him as free from stress and panic as possible."
"The best way to do this," advises Bash, "is to build on his instincts for safety. If he's hiding in the closet or under the bed, help him make his cave as comfortable as possible. Put soft pillow and bedding down, with some water and a favorite toy. If the dog has chosen the closet as his den, make certain you leave the door open, so it's well ventilated.
"You may also find your dog is jumping into the bathtub," acknowledges Bash. "Dogs always enjoy lying on cold tile in the summer, and if he's frightened and trying to dig a hole, as dogs will sometimes do, the bathroom is perfectit's cool and indestructible. So, if the dog is choosing the bathroom as his den, again, make it comfortable, keep the door open and well-ventilated. Also, keep the light off. As with the closet, the bathroom setting plays on the dog's need for safety in a cave, and the darkness will add a calming, soothing effect. Try not to be outside with your dog during fireworks.
"If you absolutely must have your dog outdoors with you, try keeping him in a professional kennel crate, rather than on a leash. A dog will feel his crate is his cave. He will feel less exposed and, thus, safer. Keep the dog in the crate right next to you, and, of course, always in the shade, well-ventilated and with plenty of water. I recommended a crate over a leash, because fireworks can create what we call 'flight behavior' in a dog, and if the dog panics and bolts, the leash could choke the dog or the dog could break free and run into traffic or get lost.
"So, again, the secret is to work with the dog's instinctive needs," reiterates Bash. "Create a cave setting, and, if possible remain with your dog and comfort him. Again, remember that the dog is a pack animal, and you are his alpha leader. Your dog will look to you for direction and for comfort. So, if your dog is panicking, hold him, caress him, talk softly to him. If he'll allow you to, put cotton balls in his ears. They will protect his eardrums by muffing the sound.
"Finally, use common sense. Try not to be outside with your dog during the fireworks or during the hottest part of the day. Give your dog plenty of exercise during the early, coolest time of the day. The exercise should also help reduce the stress he will feel as the day wears on and the fireworks begin.
"And, always be aware that dogs suffer more in the heat than we do. Cool down your dog's body periodically by wiping his head, 'armpits' and crotch with cool water. Also, remember that the smaller breeds feel the heat more intensely than the larger breeds, and the pug-nosed breeds have shorter windpipes, and often experience difficulty in breathing in the heat.
"In a nutshell, you can't go wrong if you think like a dog!" sums up Bash. "Fireworks are fun for us, but stressful for dogs. Look at July 4th through a dog's eyes. Be cognizant of his needs. You'll both have a happier, healthier, safer 4th of July!"
So, perhaps this 4th of July, we should take a tip from the original Americansthe Native Americanswhose culture is rich in legacy and lore on living harmoniously with animals. Indeed we might be wise to observe the old Indian saying, "In the eyes of the speechless animal, there is wisdom that only the truly wise can understand..."