Having a dog improves our quality of life. They help to reduce our stress levels, to be more active, and we are never alone while having our four-legged friend around us. As pet parents, we want the best for the dogs in our lives.
Firework season is approaching in the UK, which can be a really stressful time for a lot of dogs. A recent survey of over 2,000 dog owners, conducted by Lintbells, showed that 70% of dogs found fireworks distressing.
What are some common behaviors during fireworks that may indicate that your dog is experiencing fear? A study at the University of Bristol reported that dog owners found their noise-phobic dogs showed at least one of the following behaviours: vocalizing, trembling/shaking, hiding, and seeking people. You may also see that your dog is unable to eat or is constantly pacing.
Here is an exercise that will help you teach your dog to have a more positive association with the sound of fireworks. This is for dogs who have shown mild fear of fireworks in the past or for young dogs who are yet to experience fireworks.
Before you start training
It is important to know that this may take a few weeks, not only one session. When working with your dog it’s important to be consistent, patient, and mindful of their need for processing time and breaks.
During the run-up to fireworks season, make sure to practice this exercise daily but for short periods of time. Five minutes of training is IDEAL for this exercise.
If you have a dog with a severe case of noise phobia, it is essential that you work one-to-one with a positive behaviourist through these challenges your dog is experiencing and that you get veterinarian support just in case any medication is required.
A fun place for your dog
Let’s start with the foundations: the yoga mat, which is where all the fun happens! Having a specific training zone to work in allows your dog the choice to stop training, by stepping off the mat if they feel uncomfortable. Remember that training is at your dog’s pace.
The yoga mat is going to become a way for your dog to tell you if they need a break or are ready to continue training. It’s a place where they get your attention, food, and learning opportunities.
So, how can you show your dog that?
- Start by luring your dog onto the mat or waiting for them to step onto it.
- Click or mark at the moment their feet come into contact with the mat, and reward them.
- Ask – or wait for – your dog to go into a ‘sit’ or ‘down’ position. If your dog does not know the exercises of ‘sit’ or ‘down’ at this point, take time to teach those first.
- If your dog gets off the mat at any time, give them the chance to take a break, and stop training until they are happy to start up again. Your dog should feel comfortable that there is always food available, even on breaks – you can show them this by throwing a treat off the mat after a few repetitions of this exercise. TIP: Throw one treat to allow them to get off the mat and feed three when they choose to get back onto the mat again. This will help your dog to have a stress-free training session.
Practice the above steps over a few short training sessions until your dog offers a ‘sit’ or ‘down’ position every time they get on the mat.
Moving into a calm position
Once your dog is feeling more comfortable on the mat and starts to automatically offer a ‘sit’ or ‘down’ position when they step onto the mat, it’s time to move onto the next steps.
- We’re now going to teach our dog a calm, relaxed position, for example, a chin rest, lie flat on their side, or a slumped ‘settle’ position. TIP: If you want more detail on how to teach any of these tricks, head over to our Barket Club where you can get all of those videos and much more!
- Give a high value, tasty reward, such as cheese, every time your dog goes into their relaxed position.
- When you’ve achieved some duration in the calm position – your dog can hold the position for at least a minute – it’s time to start playing our firework audio track at a LOW LEVEL. When our dogs are learning they are engaging the task-focused part of their brain thus dampening down their emotional response. Their brain focuses on the training instead of thinking, “Woof, that sound is a bit scary.”
- Increase the volume slowly as your dog starts to relax into their calm position while playing the fireworks sound. Keep that food reward flowing!
- Remember, if your dog gets off the mat, stop the sounds of the fireworks immediately. Your dog is in control here and it’s important that they know they have a choice. When your dog gets back onto the mat, turn the volume slightly back down from where you were last time, and start again.
At your dog’s pace
When your dog can cope with you playing the sounds of the fireworks at full volume during a training session, you can start playing the audio track at a low-level at other times of the day. Just remember to turn off the sound if you see any signs that may indicate that your dog is feeling stressed.
Hopefully, if you’ve taken this all at your dog’s pace, they will start to ignore the firework audio track while engaging in everyday life. You can then start playing the sounds at a louder volume more regularly while giving your dog a tasty, natural chew.
If you do this exercise in the run-up to firework season, it will be very beneficial for your dog, and they will start to feel more comfortable with the noise of fireworks.
For more tips and tricks, join our online Barket Club, your dogs will thank you for it!