Saturday, September 6, 2014

Keeping Dogs Safe and Calm During Your Farm's Target Practice

Animals should be inside before target practice takes place.

                Most people who know me, my veterinarian friends included, know that I am truly devoted to my dogs. Dogs are very insightful and intelligent creatures.  Many of them know very early who to trust, and who to fear.  Our dogs work hard here, and they play hard. They are also extremely loyal creatures. Whenever I can I want them to enjoy their lives as much as possible.

                Our farm currently has seven dogs licensed to me or other family members who live here.   Most of them are rescues from animal pounds, local and from far and wide.  One is a dog who needs daily injections but is able to live her life comfortably otherwise, and the rest are animals who have been trained for a specific herding, patrol, or sentry task here.   Dogs love to have a job, but they do also appreciate a break, a swim,  and a rotation to another area, another task, or another building here. They also love being part of our group, and they appreciate the love and devotion given to them.   When they age beyond being able to work, we make a fuss of them, and care for them well throughout their "retirement".   Of all the dogs I have had in my lifetime, two were ultimately euthanized by a vet,because they were experiencing pain that could not be well managed, but the remainder passed quietly and comfortably with our being tearful, yet present.

                Dogs are also one of our best investments in security.   Although the dogs now ignore the black bears who wander to the pond on a regular basis, they will make a great deal of noise alerting us to an unauthorized human trespasser,  a car at our gates, or a coyote, or a rabid fox.    There are expenses in addition to food though. There are the costs of licensure, at least an annual physical by a veterinarian, heartworm preventive, annual preventive immunizations, rabies vaccines mandated by law, preventive worming, and for some breeds, clippers for grooming or actual professional grooming at times. As dogs age, they should ideally have an assessment physical every six months and sometimes bloodwork. In addition, as they age, even if they are fed and cared for properly, the chance of the development of a medical problem which will require expensive intervention does rise.  I do most of the preventive immunizations on the farm, but my state, like many others requires a veterinarian to administer rabies vaccine to both dogs and cats.   I am able to give the rabies vaccines to the horses and alpacas though.  Dog food is not always expensive, even for seven dogs of different sizes. However, as dogs age, they often need less corn or more expensive sources of protein in their feed, and the more specialized the food, the more expensive it is, and the more challenging it could be to get on a regular basis.

              One of our vets once told me that a fair number of dogs run away each year following July 4th.  Dogs, whose hearing is so much more sensitive than our own, are often bewildered and frightened by loud noises which sound to them like a war zone.  This brings me to my concern today.

             Here on the farm we practice with firearms fairly often.  It is not enough to own a weapon, or even to carry one when licensed to do so.  One must regularly practice with both rifles and handguns, in order to ensure that the rounds we shoot go exactly where we direct them, and not anywhere else.  It took me several years to develop into a really good shot, but it is an extremely important skill.   I thought that today I might talk about the precautions we have taken to ensure that our dogs stay safe and comfortable while we practice.

              Dogs have much more sensitive hearing than you and I and as a result, fireworks and gunshots are potentially very concerning to them.  Dogs who knew a life of loss before your acquisition of them might also have a shade of some post traumatic stress as well, and may be doubly fearful of gunfire.  A few of them may actually recognize that after gunfire, they no longer saw dogs they knew before.   For this reason,  even if we are shooting weekly with family members, we take time in advance to contain and protect our animals in advance of target practicing.

              Our horses and dogs enter the barn as soon as we start firing in another area of the farm.  They come out after we are finished and they seem to understand that this disruption to their lives passes soon.
Some of the dogs however do become upset, knocking over their houses at one of their patrol stations, and knocking over water buckets.  Now, we gather the cats and the dogs and place them inside one of the outbuildings.  They have fresh water there, and I have a radio with soft music on,  which is on a fairly high shelf, to avoid anyone even considering chewing the cord.  (The battery operated variety just haven't worked as well out here.)

               We also chose a place on the farm which has a natural hill backstop, which is as far from the dogs, horses and other animals as is reasonably possible.  People need not only consider target practice where people and animals can't be injured by stray rounds, they need to consider their dogs and other animals comfort and safety while target practicing is going on.  You and I can wear ear protection, but they do not.

                By taking a few minutes to contain the pets, and protect everyones hearing by putting them inside outbuilding, this can make a positive difference in their health and comfort level.   Please do whatever you can for your animals if you live in a place where target practice occurs.

They deserve to feel safe and calm.


Navy91 said...

Thank you for this post! My cats absolutely hate fireworks! Every year on July 4th they get scared and stay that way for an hour or so after the fireworks stop. I'm just glad I don't live closer to where the city sets up the display each year.

lotta joy said...
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Rob said...

A well written post.

texomamorganlady said...

Both of our dogs are frightened by large caliber gunfire and fireworks, they are put in the house or have access to hiding places if we aren't home. But every house in my rural neighborhood has guns for protection or hunting. Thankfully they are safe and sane shooters, but my horses no longer raise their heads at gunshots, even the biggest ones. Opening day of dove season here sounds like popcorn in a microwave, if our horses freaked out we would never be able to let them out of the barn!

JaneofVirginia said...

Thanks Rob, I appreciate the kind words !

JaneofVirginia said...

A lot of animals do eventually become used to gunfire, especially horses. Thanks for sharing your perspective as this can be an issue for a lot of people. Best wishes,

M. Silvius said...

I occasionally run across fellow aviators who fly with their dogs and many have ear muffs for their dog's hearing protection. I am wondering how well they wold work for muffling gun shots. When I was a kind we used to have a Belgian shepherd who was terrified of fireworks. He would chew the door knob off the door he was so terrified of them. I wish I'd know about doggy earmuffs then.

Linda said...

Wendy trains her dogs to not fear gunshots by training them with a cap pistol when they are puppies, using it when they eat. That way, it is associated with pleasant feelings. Of course, if you rescue a dog, training as a puppy is not possible. However, I think an older puppy or dog could benefit from hearing noise while safely in your arms or eating treats. If I ever have a dog or cat again, it will not fear gunshots. I suppose I should train my baby chicks, but that would be too much trauma. The older hens do acclimate to mowers and weed eaters, barely looking up from their scratching and pecking.

There are lots of parades here that have horses trained not to fear car noises, including horns. Some are skittish still. I saw a man with a team of six mules pulling a wagon down a narrow main street who almost lost them. The loudspeaker burst forth with noise and one of the mules jumped and they all ran. An 80-yr-old man pulled a 3-year-old from under the crashing hooves of a mule. The mule driver kept wrapping the reins around his arms and pulling back each time. The driver had cuts that ran in spirals deep in his arms from wrist to shoulder where he did all he could to stop them. The general consensus was that the one mule should not have been in the parade.

JaneofVirginia said...

Interesting idea ! Thank you so much for bringing it to our attention.

JaneofVirginia said...

This of course, is the ideal. Anytime you can train a dog to cope with something, you are better off. Having near all rescues, most have already come to me with some sensory or trust issues. Perhaps some later training would be somewhat beneficial or desensitizing to some degree.

BBC said...

You can condition just about any dog to get used to gun shots. Two of my cats don't even pay any attention to them.