By Guest Blogger John Alexander BA, CPDT-KA
Fireworks are not a cause for celebration for most dogs; thunderous booms, blinding flashes of light, smells of gunpowder, kids running around screaming, a cacophony of whistles, bangs, and explosions. This is what fireworks are like from your dog’s perspective, and can trigger a fight or flight response.
Your dog is a member of your family and you want to make sure that he is confident about everything he will encounter. The following tips will help you to make your dog’s experience of Canada Day as good as yours!
• Do not abandon your dog to deal with new and highly invasive stimuli on their own. You wouldn’t take your 5 year old child to Canada’s Wonderland, plop them in the middle and leave them alone for the day; don’t do this to your dog. Leaving your dog at home, while you walk to the local fireworks display is just like abandoning your child at the amusement park.
• Remember back to your puppy class, when you were told that everything is a training opportunity, including fireworks. A most effective means to desensitize your pup or dog to fireworks is “classical conditioning”, which pairs up something really good, like food treats or retrieving games with something scary, like fireworks.
• Position yourself and your dog well away from the “front lines” of the fireworks display (you can do this at home too). Have your treats at the ready; wait for the bang/flash; then toss a whole handful of treats on the ground for your dog to eat. Be quick, deliberate and generous in your treat delivery – the goal is not to have your dog politely taking food from your hand; rather we are classically conditioning your dog to associate fireworks with tasty food treats. Repeat for every detonation; and when your dog has had enough, remove your dog and give him a break.
Remember the golden rule: to work sub-threshold. If your dog shows fear, remove yourself and your dog to the distance that YOUR DOG decides is safe and classically condition your dog at that distance. Only go closer to the fireworks if your dog is ready.
If you are medicating your dog for situational anxiety, please follow the instructions given by your Veterinarian and use the behaviour modification tools provided by your Certified Dog Behaviour Consultant.
Remember, when you are meeting your dog’s needs, you don’t need to feel sorry for him. So, if you train him and treat him like the valued family member he is, there will be no reason to feel sorry for him!
If you need help or want more information, please email John at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enjoy a safe and happy holiday weekend.
© John Alexander 2009
ADDENDUM BY SUE 2015: If comforting your dog does not help, or if his fear is extreme, contact a dog behaviour consultant for more specific help, and if needed, your veterinarian for medical support. Fear can be deadly; fearful dogs have been known to jump out of windows or rush into traffic.