Whilst firework night might seem like an age away, now is the perfect time to start preparing your dog for the festive season if it suffers from noise related anxiety. Fear caused by fireworks can be distressing for many dogs and cause outwards displays of stress such as shaking, hiding or whimpering.
There are many treatments and techniques that purport to help such phobias, however more often than not these are not administered until the event, when it is sometimes too late. For maximum effectiveness it is essential to begin preparations early and take a broad approach, which encompasses different strategies.
Behavioural therapies, such as systematic desensitisation and counter-conditioning can be highly effective at reducing fear, if they are administered early and over a prolonged period of time.
Where should you start?
Begin your training programme a couple of months before firework season, so that you have as much control as possible over the immediate environment and the noises that your dog is likely to hear.
Once your dog is settled and comfortable, start the desensitisation process by playing an audio clip of fireworks. Desensitisation tapes are available. To begin with it is essential that the volume is very low so as not to scare the dog. It is important to remember that dogs hear much lower levels of noise than the human ear, so it is best to begin with noise that is barely audible.
During this programme be sure to reward your dog at regular intervals either with a tasty treat or fussing and attention when it displays calm and settled behaviour. Always end your session at this point, never on a negative reaction.
Be patient with the process and it can take a couple of weeks or even months and progress can be slow. Persistence will pay off and hopefully by the end of the programme your dog will be able to experience loud firework problems without reduced fear.
What happens if it doesn’t work?
As dog owners, we always have the best intentions for our four legged friends; however do not be disheartened if it doesn’t work. Just like in humans, phobias can be deep-rooted and there is no one size fits all approach. If your dog is not reacting as expected to the programme, even after a period of time, consult your vet. They will be able to offer advice or alternative medicines to try.