Preparing your dog for Fireworks Night

The earlier you start preparing your dog for the bangs and flashes or fireworks night, the easier it will be to help him manage his stress levels on 5th November. In this blog, we look at some techniques to help dogs who hate loud noises.

PS if this is your first fireworks night with your dog – it’s well worth talking to a dog behaviourist well before 5th November so that you can test his reaction in controlled conditions and potentially avoid a stressful Guy Fawkes night.

Fireworks are not the only loud noises to scare dogs

This blog is mainly about fireworks but the techniques we’re talking about can also be applied to other sounds that your dog may not like.

To understand how to unravel a dog’s fear, it’s important to understand what is happening in his body and brain to make him behave is such a distressing way. Once you know the biology behind his behaviour, you can help him manage his anxiety.

Symptoms of fear and anxiety

Signs of anxiety may be subtle or they may be very obvious indeed. If your dog is upset by noises you might see some or all of these symptoms.

  • Panting
  • Drooling
  • Yawning
  • Shaking
  • Hiding
  • Pacing
  • Clingy behaviour (following you everywhere, trying to be as physically close as possible)
  • Chewing
  • Barking
  • Losing control of bladder or bowels

Your dog’s subconscious brain has decided that the noise he can hear is a threat to his safety and the brain has told his body to release adrenalin. Adrenalin is the fight or flight hormone. It makes dogs (and humans) feel anxious, afraid and hypersensitive to any change in their environment.

The remedial technique I’m going to helps the dog’s brain react differently to a specific noise. The training goal is to let the subconscious brain be aware of the noise but to associate it with something positive and release dopamine (a happy hormone) instead of adrenaline.

For best results, get help early

Desensitising is a very effective technique IF it’s done in the right way. If it’s rushed or bungled then it can cause more problems than it cures. Please don’t try this until you have spoken to a qualified dog behaviourist.

Starting desensitisation training on 3rd November will not “cure” your dog of his phobias in time for fireworks night. So start early and take expert advice.

What is desensitising?

The nearest analogy I can use for desensitisation in dogs is a therapy commonly used for people with phobias (the biology is very similar).

The patient is encouraged to relax before briefly being exposed to whatever it is that worries him. For example, someone with arachnophobia might be told there is a picture of spider in the next room. Once they are happy with that concept and can relax, the photo is brought closer. As soon as the patient shows any sign of anxiety the picture is taken further away and the patient is encouraged to relax again.

One way to desensitise dogs with noise phobia

There is a very useful phone app for desensitising dogs with noise-phobia.  It’s called “Sound Proof Puppy Training”. You can select a sound and control its volume and duration.

Pick a time when both you and your dog are nicely relaxed – perhaps after a walk. Get the dog engaged in an activity he really loves. Perhaps a game of “hunt the biscuit” or “fetch the ball” and then start the playing the sound at a really low volume.  Many of my doggie clients enjoy a game where their dinner is distributed all around the floor so they have to work for it. They’re so busy searching and eating that they are almost oblivious to anything else. If you are stuck for ideas, your behaviourist will have lots of suggestions for activities to keep your dog’s brain busy.

It’s important that the dog can hear the fireworks sound but that the volume is sufficiently low that he’s not upset by it. Whilst he’s busy doing fun stuff, the dog’s subconscious brain will be aware of the sound but his conscious brain will override any fear because he’s concentrating on having a great time.

If all goes well and the dog is not at all stressed, you can try again tomorrow, with the volume turned up slightly.

It takes a long time and many, many repetitions for a dog’s subconscious brain to learn to ignore a trigger that was once perceived as scary. The process cannot be rushed and I can’t stress enough that it’s best done with expert supervision. After all, every dog is different – what works for one might be distressing for another. A dog behaviourist can help you tailor the programme to suit your dog.

Tools for managing anxiety on fireworks night

If you are not confident that you dog is completely desensitised to fireworks, there are some tools that you can use to help him cope. You might want to use them anyway – I’m all for a belt and braces approach to anxiety.

  • Ask the vet about sedative sprays or tablets that might help keep him calm
  • On the day, get him relaxed before the fireworks start: A long walk, a training session in the garden, followed by a stuffed Kong or a snuffle mat will all help to get his brain in a good place before the fireworks start.
  • Take him out for toileting just before the sun sets but keep him on the lead in case the bangs start earlier than you expected.
  • Keep calm yourself. If you are anxious the dog will sense it and probably mirror your emotions.
  • Close the curtains; It will hide the flashes and maybe muffle the sound a little
  • If he will wear a harness or a cooling coat, he’ll probably be happy in a thunder jacket. It’s like a close-fitting coat that helps him feel more secure. It’s the canine equivalent of swaddling a newborn baby.
  • If you can distract him with games and toys do so – but don’t take it personally if he doesn’t feel like engaging. If you’ve ever suffered with anxiety yourself you’ll understand what he’s going through.
  • Make sure he has a safe place and don’t disturb him if he chooses to hide. He’s doing what he needs to do to feel calm
  • Watch him carefully to make sure he hasn’t decided to chew electrical wires etc

Getting help with noise phobias

Whatever sounds or noises are upsetting your dog, it’s going to be almost impossible to avoid them for his whole life. So you need to take action to save the poor dog from living with anxiety or from becoming aggressive through fear.

Dog behaviourists are highly trained and very good at helping dog owners to manage all kinds of fears and phobias in their pets.

If your dog is afraid of fireworks, traffic noises or any other unavoidable sounds, get in touch today to find out how the team at CK9 can help your pet to enjoy his life to the full.

Contact CK9

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