How to Help Dogs that Fear Firecrackers
A good place to start
It happens twice a year, once for New Year's Eve and the second time around near Independence Day. Your dog does pretty well for the other times of the year, unless there are severe thunderstorms or sudden unexpected loud noises. Yet, you are not alone. Each year hundreds of dogs get startled from firecrackers or thunderstorms, some to the extent of requiring sedatives prescribed by the vet.
After all, one must understand the fact that dogs have very sensitive ears and what we perceive as loud to a dog's ears it may almost approach the unbearable. Add also the fact that dogs are sensitive as well to the vibration loud noises cause, so they may get startled as well from feeling both noise and vibration .Put them both together and you have the recipe for a very scary event.
Yet, there some things owners can do to help their canines friends before the holidays. If you dog is one that will head under the couch or howl from fear when all his family members are celebrating, following are some tips that may help your dog cope better with his fear.
Desensitization is one of the most effective behavior modification strategies available. Because fireworks and thunderstorms are not always present, most dogs never get used to them because of their sporadic nature. Instead if you purposely and systematically expose your dog to such noises, you may be able to get your dog used to them so he will no longer fear them. You can purchase a tape of thunderstorms noises or firecrackers or record them and them play them over and over during the day.
Classical counterconditioning is like adding a cherry on top of a sundae. It makes desensitization much more effective and changes the dog's emotions. To counter-condition, it is best if the tape is played when the dog is very hungry. So the dog will associate the noise with something positive. Put the tape on at low levels and feed treat. Shut tape off, treats end. Turn tape on, feed treats, stop tape, stop treats. Or you can always make it a habit of feeding your dog when the tape is on. The noise of firecrackers will become a cue that mealtime is coming! From fear your dog will go to anticipation!
However, if your dog is so terrorized to refuse to eat, put the tape away and start another day by playing it very low and then gradually increasing the volume. Always praise when the dog appears more confident.
- Provide Distraction
If upon playing the tape your dog is still fearful, try to engage him on a series of obedience training exercises or play his favorite game. Start playing a game of fetch or tug of war, anything your dog likes to do as long as it distracts him from the noise of the fireworks. Let him know that great things happen when the firework tape is running. If your dog is still too much on edge, invest in a thundershirt or anxiety wrap.
On the Big Day
When the holiday arrives, do not be surprised if your dog is still acting a bit fearful. Real fireworks are pretty different than a tape recording, they are louder, they cause vibrations and your dog may not like the lights they produce. Hopefully you will have prepared your dog to the event weeks or days prior with desensitization tapes and distraction exercises. Following are a few more tips:
-Confine in a Crate
If your dog is still nervous during the firework display rather than having him engage is destructive behaviors, racing around and risking to getting hurt, place him in a dog crate where your dog will be safe and more likely to relax. If you have introduced the crate correctly, your dog will seek it for comfort. Make sure to give a stuffed Kong to keep your dog entertained.
If you allow your dog to run around and sneak under the bed or table, this behavior will be reinforced. However, if your dog is very anxious avoid the crate altogether as your dog may then associate the crate with the fireworks. Rather, keep your dog on a leash next to you as you try to distract him with a toy or a stuffed Kong.
-Talk to Your Vet
If your dog has not been able to cope with the tape recordings regardless your efforts or is already too nervous days prior to the holiday, talk to your vet. In some cases, your dog must be medicated to better cope with its fears. A mild sedative may help your dog go through the event without too much drama. Thankfully,the events happen only twice a year, and your dog will be back to his normal self for another 6 months or so.
For a more detailed behavior modification program read: How to Help a Dog Fearful of Loud Noises