It's no secret that dog's are often scared of fireworks, in some cases developing a phobia of them (phonophobia). The bright lights and loud, random noises can definitely be fear-inducing. In fact, a recent study found that 75% of dogs were frightened of fireworks, yet only 30% of owners sought help for their frightened pet. Perhaps because in the majority of countries, fireworks are only an occasion once or twice a year, but fireworks, and other loud noises, can create high levels of distress in our dog's, which can cause or worsen the development of other phobias. Below are some quick fixes, as well as more essential thorough training you can undergo with your dog to help them overcome their fear of fireworks for good, helping them to live a stress-free life throughout the New Year's celebrations.
Safe Space For Your Dog
First and foremost it's imperative your dog has a safe space within the home, where they can retreat to if they feel nervous or scared. For dogs who are crate-trained, their crate with a blanket over the top and sides of it is an ideal place. Other dogs may hide under a table or anywhere where they feel sheltered. Some dogs may come to their owners for comfort, however as hard as it is, it's important not to create a fuss and console your dog too much as this only reinforces the nervous state of mind, which results in the gradual worsening of their phobia.
To help relax your dog in the moment, ADAPTIL's room diffuser and on-the-go collar produces calming pheromones, which send comforting messages to help puppies and dogs feel calm and relaxed in stressful situations. These pheromones mimic those produced by their mother to calm her pup's and provide a strong signal of security. It's always best to consult your vet beforehand, and to couple it with behaviour modification training.
A Thundershirt is a tight-fitting, calming wrap which works by applying gentle pressure, similiar to a warm hug, around your dog's body to help them feel more secure and at ease. Working on approximately 80% of dogs, a Thundershirt will help relieve many symptoms of fear and anxiety including shaking, digging, panting, scratching and hiding.
Redirect your Dog's Attention
Another way in which we can help a dog tackle their fear when real thunder or fireworks are going off is to use toys in an effort to redirect the dog's attention and fearful state of mind to a calmer and more positive one. By playing with the dog as soon as the loud noise begins, a positive association is created between the loud noise and play/reward. Similiarly, for dogs who are food obsessed, a food puzzle toy or a Kong stuffed with wet food/peanut butter works extremely well and can keep them busy and engaged for the entirety of an ongoing fireworks display. It's important to start with the food/toy distractions before or as soon as the fireworks start, so that you are not unknowingly reinforcing and rewarding a fearful state of mind during the fireworks.
Behaviour Modification Training | Reinforcing Calm Behaviour
Whilst all of the above will help soothe your dog, or distract them during fireworks, behaviour modification training is essential to help undo the negative associations your dog has created with fireworks, and create positive ones instead. Two techniques of classical conditioning, desensitisation and counter conditioning, and a technique of operant conditioning, positive reinforcement, can be used in conjunction to help the dog overcome their fears. Before the dog has to face the real-life and unpredictable sounds of thunder or loud noises, we could use an audio recording of thunder and play it in the house, starting at a very low volume and slowly increasing the volume over time. We can reward the dog when he is calm and relaxed when the sound of thunder is playing. In this way we are desensitizing the dog to the sound of thunder and will be reinforcing their behaviour with rewards, thereby undoing the earlier conditioned experience and creating a positive association with the sound of thunder. IMPORTANT: do not work over your dog's 'threshold'. This means don't play the recording at a volume loud enough to elicit a fearful response in your dog. You always want to be working under your dog's threshold. If your dog shows fear from the recording, go back to the previous volume where calm behaviour was achieved, and reward the calm state of mind. It’s beneficial to use audio recordings as a first step as the intensity is easier to control, thereby helping the dog to overcome their fear faster and be able to better cope with the real-life sounds.
Even though the use of fireworks has been banned across many parts of the world this year due to COVID-19, the coming year provides the perfect opportunity to work with and train your dog on their fear of fireworks. They'll be ready for bonfire night and NYE 2021 in no time!