Firework season is fast approaching, and this can strike dread into most pet-owners’ hearts. Most dogs react to these bangs and whizzes as if a gun was going off – and understandably so! The loud noises come from who-knows-where, and can even shake the house like an earthquake. Who can blame them for being worried?
Regardless, it’s still heart-breaking to see our dogs this terrified, and it’s our duty to help them as much as possible.
This is a way for you to help your pooch long-term, and this should be started with as long as possible before you’re expecting fireworks. If you find yourself out of time to prepare, take a look at our blog on “How To Survive Firework Night”
The aim of this training is to slowly and gradually get your dog used to loud, sudden noises. To do this, you need to start quiet and build up from there. If at any point your dog is unnerved or becomes scared, go back to a point where your dog was comfortable and practice more before progressing to the next step.
If you would like more help on understanding your dog’s body language, and when they are telling you they’re worried, take a look at our blog on Understanding Your Dog.
Step 1) Prepare something your dog enjoys to eat, and will take a while for them to get through (ideally it will last 5-10 mins)
Some options for this are:
- A KONG Classic or a Hollings smoked bone filled with WOOF Peanut Butter
- A puzzle feeder, such as the KONG Wobbler, loaded with your dog’s favourite treats
- A hardy chew, such as a bull’s pizzle or beef air pipe
The key part of this is that your dog really enjoys it. If they’re half-hearted, the process won’t work. They have to actively LOVE it.
Step 2) Load a sound file of loud noises to play to your dog
There are loads of possibilities out there, ranging from traffic sounds to the fireworks themselves, or even gunfire. Here are some of our favourites – these links take you through to YouTube.
You should look to play the sound file in a room that your dog usually chooses to spend time in, ideally with a bed or other comfy area for them to lie on. Make sure they have an exit route if they feel the need to leave. If they choose to go, stop the sound file and try again, at a slightly quieter volume, tomorrow. You should also make sure your dog has access to fresh, clean water.
Step 3) Play the sound file at a low volume
It’s vital that you play the track at a level that your dog can hear (remember that their hearing may be better than yours!), whilst not being loud enough to scare them. This level will vary between dogs but, if in doubt, it’s better to start off quieter than too loud.
Step 4) As soon as you press play, give your dog the tasty thing you prepared in step one.
This works to change your dog’s association with the claps and bangs. Whilst your dog may be terrified of real-life fireworks, using quieter soundtracks allows us to introduce them to these sounds at an easier level, where they can tolerate them a little better. By giving them something exciting and delicious whilst these sounds play, we are showing them that these scary sounds can actually predict great things happening. This changes the meaning of the sounds, from one of potentially life-threatening explosions, to one of impending treats and fun.
Step 5) Wait for your dog to finish, then turn off the sound file.
Try to avoid taking the tasty treats from your dog, instead waiting for them to finish and walk away. Once they do, you want to turn off the sound file and then clean up. Remember, we only want the sound file to play when your dog is stuffing their face with goodies!
If, for any reason, you need to remove the treats or chew from your dog, try to swap it for something equally or more tasty, such as a bit of cooked chicken. This will help prevent any guarding issues popping up.
Step 6) Repeat steps 1-5, but with the volume of the sound file slightly increased. Only practise once a day. Each day, try to increase the volume a little bit more.
It’s important to not practice more than once a day, as this exercise can sometimes be slightly stressful whilst your dog is learning. Giving them a break between sessions means they have time to cool off and come back to it fresh and ready. Otherwise, you risk the training not working as it should.
You should find that with each session, your dog becomes calmer with the sounds and can tolerate the higher volumes. However, it is not uncommon for some dogs to need longer to adjust to louder sounds, or even to take a step back halfway through the training. This is completely normal – don’t panic! Just remember to take everything at your dog’s pace. Keep a close eye on what their body language is telling you, and if they’re worried, simply slow it down.
Step 7) By this point, your dog should be comfortable eating their tasty treats with the volume up as high as it can go, which should ideally replicate real-life fireworks. It’s now time to swap out the sound files for real-life bangs.
Because you’re changing the style of noise, it is best to start out quiet again here. Find a heavy-ish object (saucepans and heavy books are great for this!) and go to a carpeted area in your home. If you don’t have any carpets or rugs, lay out a jumper on the floor to use. It is better if you can get a friend or family member to do the next bit, so that your dog can’t see the object dropping to the floor, but you can be close by.
Ask your friend to drop the object, from about hip height, nearby but out of sight (i.e. in the next room). Immediately offer your dog one of their favourite treats.
If your dog coped well with that, try increasing the drop height. Then, if your dog is comfortable, try getting your friend to drop the object onto a hard floor (making sure the object won’t damage your flooring in the process!) Again, start from hip height, and gradually get higher.
Remember, as soon as the bang happens, give your dog a tasty treat. This must be something that they adore – just biscuit kibble won’t cut it for most dogs. It must also be straight after the bang. Giving it before or after a long pause won’t do anything.
Once you’ve completed these steps, your dog is likely to be much calmer when the fireworks go off. Keep it up when the real fireworks are exploding away: have a loaded KONG or a puzzle feeder ready to go, and give it to your dog once the show starts. Bear in mind that it’s always best to go overboard at this time of year, so try following some of the steps in the “How To Survive Firework Night” too. With all of this in place, firework night is sure to be a success in your household.
These methods do take time and effort, but it’s worth it to give your dog a calm and stress-free holiday season.
Let us know in the comments how you get on! Our behaviour expert will be on hand to answer any questions you may have.