Do you have a dog that’s scared of fireworks? If so, you may be enjoying the lighter evenings of spring, grateful that the next firework season is (hopefully) months away. But if your dog is scared of fireworks, now is the best time to do something about it.
When an animal is scared of a noise, we can help them to overcome this fear by gradually introducing them to the noise at a very low level. This is called “desensitisation”. This needs to be done slowly and carefully, or it can make the animal worse. That’s why we recommend starting a desensitisation programme months before firework season starts.
How does a programme work?
Desensitisation works by exposing the dog to a very low level sound of fireworks and then increasing this over time. The most important part of any desensitisation programme is to take it slowly. We recommend doing 8 short sessions a week.
You can buy recordings of fireworks and other scary noises from Avenue Veterinary Centre.
1) First, choose or create a safe area in which to play the sounds. You may already have an area in which your dog feels safe, in which case the programme can be started here. You can also use calming-sprays to help them feel settled; we sell DAP and Pet Remedy at Avenue Veterinary Centre.
2) Play the CD at a very low level. Your dog may show a short response (10-30seconds) but should not show sustained anxiety; if so, you need to decrease the volume further.
3) After a 10-30second period of orientation, give the dog a high valued reward, such as a treat or toy. This is to help the dog associate the slightly scary noise with something positive. Remember if you give treats, you will need to decrease the amount of food they get for dinner! Only play the CD for a short period.
4) Over time, your dog will stop showing any anxiety when the low level noise is played. When this happens, you can slightly increase the volume of the CD and then repeat the process ie. allow them a period to settle, then distract with a reward. If at this point your dog becomes overly anxious, decrease the volume.
5) With hard work and effort, and gradually increasing the volume of the firework CD, your dog will stop being anxious when the sound plays. At this point, you can attempt to make it more realistic, e.g. play the sound at night with the curtain closed, or try it in a different room. Remember, if your dog ever shows signs of prolonged anxiety, go back a stage.
We know that having a pet that’s scared of fireworks can be upsetting for their owners and we would love to be able to help our patients overcome this fear. If you have any questions about implementing a desensitisation programme, or how to help your dog overcome any fears, please call the practice.