Stop My Dog Being Scared of Fireworks?
The Many dogs are afraid of thunder, fireworks and other loud noises. Especially dogs that are exposed by surprise and are seriously impressed and shocked can easily built a quick life-lasting phobia with panic attacks as a result. Sometimes even small signals can trigger a panic mode with the dog after experiencing loud noises, fireworks, etc. Those dogs are shivering under the bed, or clinging to their owners full of nerves and being afraid.
Dogs are naturally sensitive to unexpected loud bangs..
Because those loud bangs just seem to come out of no where, they can’t prepare for it. It really strikes them and depending on the impact such a bang has (and that is also a bit due to the sensitivity of the dog, Collies are known for hypersensitivity to noise), such a dog can develop a panic fear for loud noises. It is often not only their fear of that moment that they develop such fear, but it usually also has to do with our own behavior as dog owners.
Because what do you do if your dog is shocked by a sudden bang? You reassure him, you calm him down. That’s totally normal because we don’t want our dog to feel bad. We want him to feel safe in his own home, just as we want to feel safe there. But as strange as it sounds, your well-meaning efforts to calm him down are perceived as attention in the dog’s eyes. And dogs love attention. Before you know it, fear increases because your attention acts as a reward for the fearful behavior.
The next time another violent bang makes your dog’s life miserable, you will react protectively again. You call the dog to you – if it is not sitting on your lap – and give him little soothing pats and talk to him comfortably. Again the dog is very sure that popping is very scary and that his fear will get your unconditional attention. The more panic, the more you calm down. This creates a vicious circle of bang – fright – flight – attention. The dog freaks out at fireworks.
So now you have a dog that goes crazy when the first firecrackers of New Year’s Eve announce the arrival of a huge spectacle…
You know the dog is going through hell those days and you really want to help him out of that. That is not so easy because you simply cannot determine the moment when fireworks are lit. And yet that is necessary to teach your dog to stop reacting in a panic mode to a bang. It is therefore important to buy a CD with the sound of fireworks. That way you can stage the noise of fireworks. You can determine the moment at which you will practice and you can determine its intensity. And those are the first conditions to make your approach a success.
Step-by-step Fireworks Dog training
I went to have a look at YouTube where I searched for a fireworks video, including enough loud bangs! Of course you can also buy a CD with fireworks and loud bangs especially developed to train your dog.
Training Step 1.
Purchase a CD with fireworks sound or download fireworks sounds or use the video above.
Training Step 2.
Find out what treats your dog really loves and get it at home. Make small pieces of it.
Training Step 3.
Play the sound of the CD so soft that your dog does not respond to it. He can easily prick his ears because he thinks he hears something, but he should absolutely not be afraid. Also important is always to act and react as nothing specific is going on.
We always continue talking to each other while the fireworks sounds are silently playing on the background, if you’re alone make sure you will do something that you do many times a day, prepare a meal or watch television so the dog sees that your behavior is absolutely not changed when loud noises are played.
The dog will always watch you in responding on events, as you are his guidance and leader of the pack. He or she will continue to check how you react to certain situations or noises. He checks if you think there is danger or not so your dog knows if he should be on his guard, or to be relaxed…. As you are too!
The moment he is calm, you give him that treat. Sometimes it helps to give the workout just before eating. It can make your “loud noises training” with treats even more successful.
Leave the noise at that level and give your dog attention and treats as long as he shows no signs of stress. Stop the training after several repetitions. Training for five minutes is really enough. The next training session (you can practice a few times a day, it is important to keep such an exercise short) you will start again at that low level and reward the dog with a lot of attention if he shows normal behavior. You can also play with a ball with him, as long as the dog is relaxed.
Then turn up the volume a little higher. It is useful to write down the volume at which you have finished per session so that you know at what level you can start the next time. Again you reward with a lot of attention, a game and occasionally a treat when the dog is calm. Keep an eye on stress signals and reduce the volume if your dog becomes restless.
Training Step 4.
You start at the level of step 3 and increase the volume slightly. It is very important not to go too fast. If your dog panics, you are back to square one. So take it easy, you have about two months to prepare your dog for the bang of New Years. You also need that time to successfully complete the training.
Training Step 5.
Eventually, the final stage in this training is that the fireworks sound pops loudly through your room and have your dog focus on using a yummy treat or playing with your dog. Fireworks are now no longer an alarming signal, but the signal to something pleasant.
Training Step 6.
Repeat everything but outside the house using a portable CD player.
Note: you must keep this up. Not so intensive anymore, but a learning session once a month ensures that your dog does not forget what he has learned. We have done actually the same with the YouTube video and it worked out great. Our dog Stippy has been taught as a pup to understand that loud bangs, thunder and fireworks are not something special and we can even go out with Stippy on New Year’s Eve without a leash, he is absolutely conditioned in a good way without being afraid.
Never give a treat or a hug or play with the dog before the noise training, but always after the noise training (provided the dog behaves normally!). If you give the treat in advance, the pleasant is combined with the unpleasant, so you run the risk that your dog will find treats as annoying as the sound of the fireworks, and the intention is of course that the association happens exactly the other way around.
Is Group training working?
Some dog schools offer a course specifically aimed at training away fireworks anxiety. That can help fine, provided it concerns a private training where really only your dog is trained and very special attention is paid to the noise level that your dog can specifically handle (and that, of course, you work with rewarding the right emotion, and not with punishment: punishment is NEVER an option if fear is the underlying motivation for unwanted behavior).
Recognize stress signals
Recognize the stress signals. Your dog is too tense or stressed if you see one of the following behavioral manifestations frequently or if three different behavioral manifestations show themselves simultaneously during your training:
- Lift a front leg
- Frequent Yawning
- Stick out their tongue
- Look straight without actually looking
- Crying/whining / barking in a high tone
- Pee while he’s or she just went out earlier
- Scratching himself
- Scratch the floor
- Sneezing / sniffing which is abnormal
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