It’s Canada Day, and at 10 o’clock tonight every city is going to be setting off fireworks. How well does your dog handle them?
Some dogs pay no attention at all, others bark, and others are terrified. The good news is that some treats and some patience can help teach your dog how to handle fireworks.
If your dog barks annoyingly every time a firework goes off, it’s time to train her out of that!
Step 1: Gather some special treats and make sure your dog is a little hungry tonight.
Step 2: Whenever a firework goes off, start waving a treat and wait for your dog to stop barking and to pay attention to you instead. When your dog stops barking and focuses on you, praise and give the treat.
Step 3: Repeat! It won’t take your dog long to learn that by quieting down and focusing on you, she gets a treat.
Goal: Make a goal of having your dog report for the treat as soon as they hear the fireworks instead of bothering to bark. To do that, make sure the treat is whipped out the second the noise starts. Ideally your dog should be chowing down while the noise is still going on.
You’ll know it’s working when a firework goes off and your dog just trots toward your expectantly.
Step 1: Do NOT take your dog to a firework event. Sit in a room where the sound is as muffled as possible. Put on some white noise to help cover it up a bit.
Step 2: Skip your dog’s dinner tonight and get some REALLY high value treats. Hot dogs, steak, whatever it takes to get your dog really excited. If your dog really doesn’t care about food, bring an extra-fun toy, but food tends to work best.
Step 3: Every time a firework goes off, throw a party. Set a good example. Fireworks are wonderful! Great! YAY! In fact, they give you the uncontrollable urge to dole out STEAK! Stick the meat right under your dog’s nose and act really happy. If your dog eats the treat pat and praise him. If your dog does not eat the treat, hide it again as soon as the noise stops. Firework = treat. No firework = sorry, chum, no more treats. Act calm and completely normal between explosions. Produce treats for consumption only when noise is going on.
Goal: Your dog’s fear will not disappear overnight. However, if you can coax your dog to eat during the noise your dog will slowly begin to associated fireworks with fun steak/hotdog parties instead of terror. You’ll know you have succeeded when your dog responds to a firework by looking at you hopefully for steak.
If tonight is too much for your dog, and he was uncontrollably excited/terrified, that’s okay. It just means that you need to start smaller. Set yourself a goal of making the next big firework event (usually Hallowe’en) bearable. Once a week (set a reminder on your phone!) from now until then, put on a video of fireworks on Youtube and practice the above steps. You can reduce the volume or raise the volume as necessary to set difficulty levels.
For really frightened dogs, you can also ask your vet for a natural supplement like Zylkene or L-Theanine, which are proven to have a mild anti-anxiety effect without “drugging” your dog. This won’t work on its own but will help reduce your dog’s stress levels to a point where you are able to train effectively.