Now that the firework season is almost over – that is until Christmas! I wanted to speak to you about the aftermath for dogs who are afraid of fireworks. There are many good articles (and some not so good!) on the internet about how to help a dog whilst fireworks are being let off near by and so I won’t go into that here. I wanted to address the dogs who have suddenly become more reactive to other stimuli.
If your dog has either started barking at or displaying fear to certain sounds, sights and smells since experiencing fireworks near your home it could be that the source of the initial fear has now generalised to other things.
Let me explain in human terms: Many people are afraid of spiders. It is a fear that often goes back as far as they can remember, perhaps picked up from a parent. The spider is the original source of the fear, BUT before long the spider’s web also becomes a frightening thing, even though a silken web can do no harm to anyone (unless you are a small insect). After the web may become anything that looks like a spider; a small piece of fluff on the floor for example, you may then progress to other insects as they have the same colour and similar looking body and legs and so on. If the phobia really gets hold it can be a very debilitating thing as with any phobia and in order to cure the problem professional help is often required.
This too can happen to dogs with fireworks, initially it is the whizzes or bangs outdoors at evening times, it then may progress to any noise that sounds like this on the television, but then you take the dog for a walk and a car backfires or a police car plays its siren, someone may be having a bonfire in their garden, the smell can become the stimulus particularly if the dog has been frightened in it’s own garden, don’t forget the smell of the explosive can linger in the air long after the bang – the dog’s sense of smell is around 40 times more powerful than our own.
You are going to need to do some confidence building work and if the problem has grown significantly get professional help. The first thing to remember is that if your dog has suddenly started displaying this kind of behaviour and is barking – it is not being naughty and shouting at it will simply make it think you you share its fears. Find times when the dog is calm and steady and really reward those.
Once the dog is used to being rewarded for the correct calm behaviour you can move on to distracting it if something triggers it’s fear; the minute the distraction is working and the dog is once again displaying a short moment of calm reward the calm behaviour. A useful tool for this kind of work is a little box called a clicker, this gives you a precision timing tool to let the dog know when it is displaying favourable (in this case calm) behaviour. I would recommend getting a professional who understands the principle of this method of training to help you with this.
The reason for this short article is to give the confused dog parent an insight into why their dog may be displaying a certain set of behaviours that don’t seem to have a cause. If the simple steps above are not effective and the dog’s fear has turned to a phobia then please seek professional help.
Please note that the image used for this post was digitally created.