Preparing for fireworks

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Preparing for fireworks Empty Preparing for fireworks

Post by LizP on Sat Sep 16 2017, 16:42

Frequently Asked Questions

Preparing for fireworks

A fear of fireworks is common among dogs of all breeds. Dogs’ reactions range from mild concern to all out panic, including involuntary urinating, shaking, digging, chewing, etc. It is distressing for both dog and owner, who feels powerless to help.

Why are dogs afraid of fireworks?

A firework to a dog is a very loud noise that happens very suddenly, is usually repeated, and which causes a reaction from us. The noise in itself can be startling – some fireworks are very loud – especially because it is unexpected.

Owners with puppies who have not yet experienced fireworks or rescue dogs whose reactions are unknown are often on edge, worried that their dog will turn out to be afraid. As dogs are known to look to us to see how we react to unknown objects and events, this worry on our part can cause worry in the dog. Your concern may then go on to create an anxiety that wouldn’t otherwise have been there!

By setting up a positive approach and planning well in advance, you should be able to help your dog either learn about fireworks from the start in a positive way, or help your older dog with an existing fear cope better. At the same time, you will feel that you have some degree of control, if not over the fireworks themselves at least over how they impact your home.

Puppies and inexperienced dogs

Start planning for fireworks as soon as you like, but don’t leave it till 4th November. Desensitising can take time and it’s always better for you not to feel you have a looming deadline.

Think that you are desensitising to loud and sudden noises, not specifically to fireworks. Firework sounds are readily available on CD or online but there is a question as to how similar these sounds actually are and whether they provide the same impact to a dog. They may have a place in your training but to start off with let’s look at sounds in general.

The objective of this training is for your dog to learn that loud noises, especially sudden loud noises, mean nice things from you. Think of Pavlov’s dog, who started to salivate at the sound of a bell because he knew it meant food, it’s that sort of association we want to build.

Hand in hand with this, we also want to make sure that your response to fireworks gives your dog the right clues as to what his response would be.

Achieving this is easier than you might think- the hardest part is finding sounds! Start with finding sudden but not too loud sounds that you can have in the home. That might be the sound of someone dropping a box, slapping a hand on a surface, something like that. It’s best if he can’t see the person causing it so your dog is associating with a noise, not with you doing something.

Each time the noise happens, you go into silly happy mode ‘woohoo, Fido, did you hear that brilliant noise? Here have a treat’. If your dog prefers toys, you can play with him instead. This is a super fun game! Be over rather than under happy. Even if you feel a bit of a prat doing it, just be as happy as you can about the noise.

This level of noise shouldn’t cause any problems to your dog (thankfully they don’t get embarrassed by us) but should lay the foundations that sudden noise = fun and treats/play time. If your dog is worried by the sounds, then find lesser ones to start with.

Then build up. Find different sounds, such as slamming doors, dropping pans, bursting balloons. Your response to each one is the same – yay, another great excuse for a treat or play! Make sure that you are training at different times but especially in the evenings, which is when you are most likely to experience fireworks. Maybe get the kids to pop balloons upstairs while you and Fido are settled in front of the telly or something.

If know of places out and about where there are loud noises – pigeon scarers in the countryside, near a paintball wood, by a building site – you can use these as part of your programme when your dog is ready. You might even live near enough to a wedding venue that often has fireworks that you can practise from a safe distance with. Don’t go in too soon unless something happens that’s out of your control.

If you do have an incident that catches you unawares, just go into training mode as if you’d planned it. Ideally you’ll have your treat pouch on you but if you don’t just be fun and play. Make sure you keep your dog’s attention until he’s forgotten about the noise.

If you want to include recorded firework sounds, use exactly the same method. Whizz bangs = FUN!

When it comes to the real thing, make sure you have plenty of treats so you can work in exactly the same way with the first pops, no matter how distant they are. Once you are absolutely confident that your dog isn’t reacting in any way except positively, you can start to reduce the treats. If at all possible, let your dog have his first experience of fireworks without them being too close – it might be an idea to as around to find out who is having fireworks when.
You should find that you can, with time, stop playing and treating as your dog just accepts fireworks as one of those things. Do monitor from time to time, especially at the beginning of firework season, to make sure he’s still settled.

Retraining for the older dog

You can teach old dogs new tricks, although established fears are more difficult to deal with.

The method above can work with dogs of any age and it is urged that you give it a good go, not a half-hearted attempt because you feel that it won’t work anyway, but a really good go. Be prepared for it to be more difficult and be prepared to spend more time as sounds increase in volume.

Because your dog will already have associations with firework sounds, recorded sound could be helpful to work with. See how he reacts to sounds you can find online, starting with the volume low and keeping the training going the whole time. It is worth doing an initial test without training as there is no point in spending lots of time if he wasn’t going to react anyway.

In addition to this training, there are other ideas (maybe combined) that can help.

  • Keep calm yourself. No matter how angry you feel with people who are scaring your dog, negative emotions from you will not help your dog. Keep as positive as you can, either in happy play mode as above if it is having any effect at all, or in relaxed and reassuring mode otherwise.  

  • Even for firework phobic dogs, a distant sound will be easier to cope with than a near one. You may not be able to change where fireworks are but you may be able to change where your dog is. Plan ahead of time, know when local displays are, ask your neighbours if and when they are having fireworks. See if you can find somewhere quieter to go at those more testing times.

  • Go for a drive. Some dogs can find the more enclosed, moving, vibrating feel of the car reassuring, plus the sound of the car (especially if you have the radio on) can muffle sounds.

  • Use other sounds to mask the fireworks but choose your sounds carefully. Try to keep the beat of any music to below the rate of your dog’s heart. Classical music is better than Radio 1!

  • If you have a dog that paces, digs, tries to climb out of closed windows, etc., try using a long line to limit movement. You don’t want your dog to feel trapped, just less able to do his stress pacing. This can in some cases help as it limits the build up.

  • Some dogs like a den. If this is the case, make sure he has a space he knows in advance where you can sit with him if he needs you.

  • Some dogs actually prefer to be outside, but do make sure your dog is on a line so he can’t run off if he is scared. Sitting watching fireworks together is sometimes not such a daft option as it sounds.

  • Thunder shirts, DAP diffusers, etc can help some dogs but they are not miracle cures for all. You may want to try some of the cheaper/free options above before investing.

If nothing else, we hope the above gives you something to work on. There are things you can do to help!

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