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At Purton Vets, we specialise in pet behaviour

Fear of Fireworks

It's that time of year again when we look forward to frosty nights and fantastic firework displays over the Guy Fawkes, Christmas and New Year period. But for some pet owners and their pets it is a time fraught with anxiety and fear.
Some dogs are scared of noises. Whatever the reason for this, the fear is real and should be taken seriously. The dog may react in many different ways depending on the individual but one thing is for sure รข€“ the fear will become worse and worse every year and so early intervention is imperative. Here are some tips to help you help your dog through this traumatic time plus some behavioural advice to help desensitise your dog to scary sounds.

Tips to help your dog survive fireworks night

  • Keep your dog indoors to prevent him running off in fright
  • Close the curtains and turn the TV up to try and disguise the fireworks
  • Provide a safe haven. Make a dena for your dog to hide in to make him feel safe. He may even have his own safe place to go like under a bed or behind a couch. Let him be - this is his coping strategy
  • Do not reassure him with lots of cuddles and attention. This is the hardest one for us humans, unfortunately, if we do this we only reinforce the feeling that there is something to be scared of as we are rewarding the dog for his behaviour. Remain calm and oblivious to the sounds, your dog will gain confidence from your behaviour
  • Use a D.A.P plug in pheromone diffuser. This can have a remarkable calming effect on dogs and makes them feel more secure in their environment. Must be plugged in weeks before the anticipated event though
  • For extreme fear, your vet may prescribe Valium to help your dog get through the night. This has a slight sedative effect on the dog as well as reducing anxiety. The use of drugs is not ideal though as it does not deal with the underlying issue which really needs to be addressed

Behavioural advice

The most successful way to solve a sound phobia is by desensitising (make the sound less scary) and counter-conditioning (associating the sound with something pleasant). A CD has been made called Sounds Scary, which when used correctly, is very successful in helping to solve the problem. The CD (which has recordings of fireworks on) is initially played at such a low volume as to be inaudible. The dog is brought into the room and is given treats or played with. Over a few sessions the volume is turned up gradually until the dog actually anticipates a game or something good when he hears the sounds. This process should take at least 2 weeks - if you rush you may make the problem worse.  

All behaviour modification takes patience and time, there are no quick fixes. Dogs who exhibit sound phobias can suffer stress that can impact on the rest of their life so seeking help early is very important. If you would like more behavioural advice or would like to discuss your dog's individual problem, please contact me at the surgery.    

Jocelyn Lander RVN DipCABT (Qualified veterinary nurse and animal behaviourist)

How do you know whether a behavior therapist is competent?

You can ask about membership of The Centre of Applied Pet Ethology (Coape) or some other organization that does some kind of training and quality control before admitting members. You can ask about the therapist's education, whether the person has a college or higher degree in animal behavior. But not all good therapists have degrees. You can ask at the vet surgery. You can ask at a dog school that rejects the choke chain for training dogs and uses treats and/or the clicker instead.  

When you contact a therapist, you can present your case briefly and let the therapist start talking. Then...

One thing to watch out for is that the therapist doesn't just have a standard, ready-made answer. A good therapist will ask you lots of questions about your dog and his/her history, how you brought the dog up, when the problem first started, when and where it occurs, and so on. The therapist will want to make a house visit and watch you with the dog. S/he might ask you to do various things with the dog, perhaps even asking you to do something that will make the dog show the growling or snapping behavior. (A good therapist will not ask you to do this in a way that puts you or your dog at risk -- neither physical risk, nor emotional and psychological risk.) A good therapist will take a thorough look at you and your dog as individuals and at your particular relationship. If the therapist already knows the answer before you even tell your story, it's better to look for someone else.  

Another very important thing to watch out for is that the therapist doesn't start talking about dominating your dog by any technique that sounds the least bit like intimidation or punishment. Some good therapists will still talk about dominance and ranks and leadership -- but when they start explaining how to change these things, they will not be telling you to intimidate your dog, hit your dog, kick your dog, jerk on the choke chain, nor do anything else that is scary, painful, or intimidating for your dog. A good therapist will know exercises for you that make the dog feel less intimidated and worried rather than more.  

The instant a trainer or therapist starts talking about punishing your dog or doing anything that is intimidating, scary, or painful for your dog, it's time to say, "thanks, but no thanks," and call someone else.  

The 100 Most Silly Things That Have Ever Been Said About Dogs

There are many misunderstandings about dogs and their behaviour. This website should provide you with some food for thought.
Alexandra Semyonova has published a book that I hope will change the way people understand their dogs.The book is intended for both beginners and experts. It takes us through many of the beliefs we have about dogs, explaining what domestic dogs really are and where their behaviour really comes from. It is a fun, easy read that will change the way you see your dog and greatly improve your relationship with him or her.

  • Dogs are not wolves.
  • You do not need to keep your dog "subordinate."
  • Dogs build on trust, not on dominance.
  • The first, most basic dog rule is "no real aggression." Humans need to learn this.

Dog Star Daily

DogStarDaily.com is a free website for dog lovers; a daily magazine with news, blogs and articles about dog behavior; a comprehensive digital dog training textbook, with everything you need to know about raising or training your puppy or dog and especially, how to prevent or fix most common behavior problems; plus a place to share photos and videos of your favorite canine companions. We so strongly believe that puppy husbandry and training information is so important that it should be freely available to all, with the hope that dogs (and their humans) will be happier and healthier because of it. dogstardaily.com is growing everyday, with new content and features added on a regular basis.