Barks & Bunnies are delighted to have Angela from Polite Paws giving some fantastic advice about what to do if your dog is scared during Firework season...
My name is Angela and I run Polite Paws Dog Training based in Surrey. I did my training with the APDT (UK) (Association of Pet Dog Trainers) and am also a member of the Pet Professional Guild, which is the association for force free pet professionals.
I am a passionate enforcer of reward based training, and clicker training in particular, and strongly believe we never need to use any kind of force or punishment when training our best friend!
It is fast approaching that time of year that many dog owners dread….fireworks night!! If you are, like me and have a dog who finds the sound and sight of fireworks incredibly stressful, it is not an enjoyable time! Now don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love fireworks! I am a big kid and can happily watch unlimited fireworks displays….but the enjoyment is dampened massively by the fact I know my dog hates them.
So…what can we do to make this time of year more bearable for our four legged friends?
- It is a common misconception that if your dog is worried/anxious/scared you should not comfort them as you will reinforce that fear and make them believe there really is something to be concerned about. This is something I disagree with passionately. You cannot reinforce an emotion in the same way that you reinforce a behaviour (such as “sit” or “down”). For example, if we had a fear of spiders, and we could see a big hairy spider in the corner of the room, would we get more fearful if someone gave us a hug? Or would we feel comforted? The answer is, of course, the latter, and it is exactly the same with dogs. In fact if we do ignore them when they are fearful and worried (which is when they need us the most) they will learn that we are not there for them, can make them feel more anxious because of the fact they are being ignored when probably, on a normal evening, they would get unlimited affection! My dog responds far better to affection when he is worried than if he is ignored….if he is ignored (because I have done the test myself!) he doesn’t calm down, paces around looking very worried and keeps looking at me, displaying very anxious body language. If I call him to me with a light hearted voice and give him some affection, he calms down much much faster. So if your dog is worried…comfort them! You will not reinforce his fear…all you will do is help reassure him! When I say to comfort your dog, I don’t mean you should grab your dog in a head lock and give them a bear hug!! Some dogs enjoy hugs – but a lot do not like being cuddled. So it is important to comfort your dog in a way that they will be receptive to.
- During bonfire night itself, when you know there are going to be fireworks going off, prepare for it. Take your dog out for a walk and toilet break before it gets dark….close the curtains and blinds and either put the tv or radio on. I highly recommend playing Classical music for your dog……in particular the “Through a Dog’s Ear” range of “Music to calm your canine companion”. This is classical music played solely on the piano….my dog finds it much more calming than regular tv or radio!
- Kongs are quite possibly the best invention ever! You can never have too many Kongs and they are useful in so many circumstances! So prepare a couple of kongs stuffed with your dog’s favourite stuff (such as peanut butter, low fat cream cheese, mashed banana, pieces of apple or banana or carrot, good quality wet food such as NatureDiet/Forthglades) so that your dog has something to occupy him during the evening. Chewing is a great stress reliever, and if the Kongs are frozen once stuffed then it will take even longer to empty it!
- Create a safe den for your dog…somewhere he can go to feel safe and secure. If your dog has a crate that he already sees as his safe haven, even better….cover 3 sides with blankets so it is cosy and dark, and leave the door open for him to go in and out as he pleases. Place a Kong in there or other treats, and try to position it away from doors and windows, so it is as far away from any noises as possible.
- Thundershirts and herbal remedies such as Skullcap and Valerian (available from Dorwest Herbs) can help, as can Adaptil (a synthetic copy of the natural canine appeasing pheromone which is given off by lactating bitches) which comes in a diffuser, spray or collar, and is said to emit the same pheromones as the puppy’s mother would do when in the litter. Adaptil is available from your vet.
These pictures below show my boy Dylan relaxing…and this is how we all want our dogs to feel!