Proven Training Methods for Dogs That Are Afraid of Fireworks
Will Training Make My Dog Feel Safe Around Fireworks?
Conditioning (or more properly called classical counter-conditioning by animal behaviorists) is a technique that is used with animals to get them used to an unpleasant stimulus. You can use a situation to which the dog normally acts negatively, like loud sounds, and you condition her so that she has a pleasant feeling about what used to bother her.
I suggest using food for conditioning because almost all dogs love treats; if your dog is not food-responsive, you might want to give her a favorite toy or a lot of praise along with a special food. The food should be something the dog thinks of as very special, but be sure it is not going to provoke any health problems. Play around with the food and toys and see what works before starting this program.
This technique has been used successfully for many years. There are alternatives since dogs are individuals and will react differently. Even if your dog does perform less than optimally, using this technique will calm her and make her feel safe. It will be time well spent.
How to Condition Your Dog Around Fireworks
- Prepare some special food. If using baked chicken breasts (a good lean meat), cut the treats up into pieces about the size of your little fingernail. If you prefer to buy a treat, get something that is really small and tasty.
- Have your partner step into the back yard with a single firecracker. Give her a treat. Set off the single firecracker. Give her a treat no matter how she responds. (Do not be upset if your dog is too scared to even eat the treat. Just leave it on the ground for her.)
- Continue this process every day, lighting no more than a single firecracker each day. Every time the firecracker goes off, give her a special treat. With time the dog will learn that the sound of the firecracker is a good thing, associated with getting a special treat.
- When the second week arrives, you should set off a firecracker, give her a treat, set off another firecracker, give her another treat, and then stop for the day. Two firecrackers = two treats, which is still not an overwhelming noise and hopefully not enough to set off her phobias. Try this about a month, and then if she is doing better, set off a third firecracker.
- (If she freaks out at three firecrackers, go back to one and start all over with the treats. This condition took a long time to develop into a phobia and in some dogs, it takes a long time to get over.)
After another month you can reduce the frequency, but you need to remember that the problem has not gone away, it is just under control for the moment. Every week or so, light a few firecrackers and give her treats after each “bang” so that the conditioning will stay current.
Alternative Methods That Help
- Keep your dog in a quiet room during the fireworks. It is never a good idea to leave your dog alone out in the yard, shove her in a crate (no matter how comforting someone told you it is for her), or put her in a room alone while you go to watch the fireworks.
- Stay home: This is one of the most important alternatives. Research has proven that dogs that are alone feel higher levels of anxiety than those that can depend on their owners.
- Play to distract your dog. This is one of the CDs that I have found to be helpful when you want to take the dog into a back room during a loud holiday fireworks display. This alternative method can help some dogs when the neighborhood comes alive with noise. Grab your laptop, take your dog into a back room and, if she will let you, put cotton balls in her ears. Play some loud music on your portable CD player and sit with her for the evening. calming music
- Aromatherapy may also be useful. If you take about 10 drops of lavender essential oil and add it to a small spray bottle of water it will help some stressed out dogs.
- An herbal remedy might be the better alternative since you cannot keep your dog sedated or on other medications all of the time. The problem with herbal remedies is that they take a lot longer to show effect, so if you are concerned about the end of June/early July, you really should start no later than May. If your dog will drink chamomile tea you can try that, and if not, you can soak her treats or kibble in the tea. The other herb I have heard about that works as a calming agent is echinacea. This herb is sold as an immune stimulant, so if you want to keep her on it year round, there are other potential benefits.
- Try a thundershirt. This is a product sold that wraps the dog tightly and sometimes has a calming effect. It has worked in some cases, but the majority of dogs will still need counterconditioning.
- Prescriptions: If classical counterconditioning techniques are not successful with your dog even after several months, talk to your veterinarian and ask for a prescription. In 2016, a new drug, Sileo, was approved to help dogs with this condition. It makes dogs less fearful by blocking norepinephrine. It is sold as a gel, and the family puts it between the dog´s cheek and gum so that it is absorbed slowly. Sileo has been tested on several hundred dogs, and about 75% of owners think it has good to excellent results. Dogs do not seem as upset during the fireworks. It lasts a couple of hours, so one or two doses might take you through the whole evening. Sedatives like acepromazine, which have always been used in the past, just make dogs quiet but do not reduce anxiety.
The Long-Term Benefits of Training
Training your dog with counterconditioning will have long term benefits. When the firecracker season approaches next year, she will be better prepared to handle the noise. This is a problem that will get worse as her life continues, and a problem that you will need to continue treating for the rest of the time you are together.
Help her with this. A little time spent now may keep her from running through a glass door later, and she will repay for your kindness in every way she can!
Dog Training Articles That Might Help
- How to Train Your Dog to Stop Digging
Dogs love to dig. This article will tell you the reasons dogs dig, and give you a few tips to decrease your dogs' digging.
- How to Train a Dog Not to Bark
The main cause of excessive barking in dogs is boredom. Boredom is caused by lack of a job, lack of a diversion, and most of all lack of exercise. Since you probably can´t throw your dog into the back of your truck and go to work, the next best thing
- Dog Training Tips : Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety in dogs is not an easy problem to deal with, but it can often be managed with a few modifications. Learn what they are and what you can do to help your dog.
- "Good (and Bad) Ways to Help a Dog Afraid of Fireworks"
- Aromatherapy: "Aromatherapy for travel-induced excitement in dogs," Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Wells, 2006 Sep 15;229(6):964-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16978115
- Staying home: Dreschel N.A. "The effects of fear and anxiety on health and lifespan in pet dogs," Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 125 (3-4) 157-162
- Sileo: "Zoetis Announces Launch of SILEO® for Treatment of Noise Aversion in Dogs"
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Dr Mark