For many people who share their homes with a dog, the very thought of Bonfire Night triggers a wave of panic that builds to a sense of sheer dread as the day itself approaches. The loud bangs, whooshes and pops that delight any children in the house can just as easily set off hours of barking, whimpering, cowering and scratching amongst the canine residents. So many people find themselves in this predicament year after year, but the good news is that by starting early it is possible to reduce the fear felt by pets on the night.
The trick is to use noise desensitisation – exposing pets gradually to a series of noises and firework sounds so that over time they become accustomed to the experience and learn that there is nothing to fear. There are several CD packages and downloadable programmes available to purchase, but you may like to know that Dogs Trust has partnered with vets Sarah Heath and Jon Bowen, both internationally respected experts in animal behaviour, to offer the duo’s sound-based treatment programmes for free from here.
The principles of therapy are simple – over a period of about eight weeks, your pet encounters firework (and other) sounds that gradually increase in volume and duration, in a part of the home where he/she feels safe and comfortable. Once your pet has become desensitised to the sounds that used to be scary, counter-conditioning teaches your pet to associate the noises he/she used to find terrifying with rewards. A final stage then helps your pet look to you for reassurance – when you are happy and panic-free, he/she readily accepts that it’s OK to feel the same.
The process of desensitisation is necessarily lengthy – after all you are working on reversing learned behaviours that your dog may have developed over many years. It takes time and patience but your consistent approach and perseverance will be rewarded with real success. Of course, for some pets the fear is too deeply engrained for a home programme to be fully effective, and in such cases we recommend speaking to your vet about the help available. Many veterinary practices have vets or nurses who specialise in behavioural counselling and they can help you and your pet come to terms with the noises and events that cause panic and fear.
So don’t delay – if Bonfire Night is an annual nightmare (both for your pet and yourself!), taking action now will help take the pressure off on the night. Good luck!
Until next time, best wishes from Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support
Please note: The Ralph Site is not affiliated with the third-party organisations in any of the links shared here, and the views, ideas and suggestions expressed in this and other blogs are simply shared with the intention of helping you, our friends, take care of the special animals in your lives.