Dealing with the Noise Sensitive dog!
Firework season is all but past for another year but its truly heart breaking to once again hear all the stories of dogs bolting, getting lost and generally either running scared or shaking in a corner whilst the bangs continue.
Whilst there are some things we can do, like keeping pets inside, playing loud music, staying home for support, and even checking in with a vet for medical supplementation if things are really bad, in all honesty if your dog is suffering with the bangs this year, you are just going to be holding tight and waiting for it to be over.
The most difficult aspect of fireworks is that we all have so little control over when they go off and no way really to get away from them. So if you and your dog have suffered this year (and in all likelihood will suffer more for days to come yet) what can be done to make next year less fearful for your pets?
Desensitisation plan – once things die down this year and your pet has recovered, this is the time to start making a training plan so that next year will be less difficult.
What does a training plan look like?
It can be as simple as a piece of paper where we jot down notes on what we do day to day and how our dog responds, however, you might find that using a google spreadsheet can work particularly well. You can share results with a vet or trainer and always know where to access it so data doesn’t get lost.
Data about what? The kind of data you might log would be determining your dogs emotional state based on body language. Some body language is obvious like shaking, hiding, panting and/or pacing. Other kinds of body language is subtle like yawning more often that usual or lip licking. It can be useful in fact to simply write down all the things you se your dog normally do when you consider him in a good state of mind and then you can compare with that behaviour you see after or during a training session.
So … What do we do? Essentially we want to try to desensitise our dogs to small approximations of exposure to bangs and cracks. Initially this might be a recording play so very quietly that it is barely audible. We might also want to list other noises that might approximate those of fireworks… the rumble of a truck or drums for instance. The internet is a great resource for sound effects and although audio isn’t the only component to fireworks, its at least a start.
Under Threshold? Once we have a better idea of our own dogs body language we can use that to determine if and when our dog might be reaching their threshold. That means the point at which the noise may begin to be aversive (or aversive enough that the dog doesn’t respond normally or maybe not at all). For desensitisation, ideally we want to stay under that threshold as much as possibly and occasionally ‘surf’ just underneath it.
Threshold… is a border between two different states. People talk about a dog’s threshold in relation to a variety of things. We might say that when a dog stops responding to our cues, stops taking food or playing freely, especially when that seems due in most part to the engagement of an environment change (but not always) that this is when he is over threshold.
Other people may not define their dogs threshold at that point and wait for some sort of emotional and extreme physical display like when a dog barks and lunges at another as going over threshold.
Denise Fenzi provides some brilliant feedback and thoughts on Thresholds in this ‘blog post’! It’s well worth a read.
Dogs need to feel safe and not be aroused (over threshold) in order to undertake :-
– Personal play
– Toy play
– Sustained focused eye contact
– Food consumption
– Cued behaviours
These things can be used as indications on whether your dog is coping well or not so well.
These indications are what we can use as trainers and as owners to gather information about how your dog is coping generally.
Confidence Building –
Ambiguous stimuli interpreted negatively by dogs lacking in confidence.
We can make a huge impact on how a dog thinks and reacts to things by working regularly with games that concentrate on confidence building and Flexibility as concept.
It’s also important to remember that learning just about anything provides skills that allows the brain to learn new things better and easier.
Not responding – Find a Trainer and/or Vet Behaviourist?
If you have set up a training plan, observed your dog and done a bit of research on body language but you just don’t seem to be making headway it might be time to seek out some help!
Experienced trainers and behaviourists can help to define early thresholds, create a proactive training plan, help you to implement that and can iron out speed bumps along the way.
You are NOT ALONE! – Don’t forget you are not alone. The behaviour isn’t anybody’s fault. It’s quite common and can be worked out, so reach out… email@example.com