I really wouldn’t be any kind of puppy trainer if I didn’t say something about firework night! I have seen a multitude of dog-related posts across social media, detailing how to deal with your dogs fears or worries about firework night, also advice regarding what NOT to do. Some I agree with, some is simply ‘what everyone says’ and accepted as fact. However, not many have simply focused on puppies…..and what am I? I am a puppy trainer! So, what should we be doing with our puppies on firework night??
Firstly, I must start by stating that I am working on the assumption that your puppy has had no prior negative experience with fireworks. If you DO have a puppy or dog who has an already established fear or phobia, please seek professional advice on how to deal with this.
I am speaking with the assumption that none of your puppies have had any experience of fireworks, and this is their very first night exposed to the big bangs! So, what should we do? Nothing. Yes, I said nothing. If per chance, you have been exceptionally well prepared you may have invested in some cd’s with fireworks or thunder sounds, and your puppy will be fairly relaxed with these sounds by now, so your evening should be pretty peaceful! If you haven’t done this, do not despair, there is absolutely NO real reason for your puppy to be fearful or worried providing you have been positively socialising your puppy thus far. Above all else, do not sit there all evening presuming your puppy is about to have a minor meltdown with every bang, he may well cope just fine!
However, it can help to have a few handy hints and tips, just to cover yourself exceptionally well and to give you a few new ideas:
1. Environmental management – now just because your pup may have a fairly relaxed emotional response to fireworks, it doesn’t mean he wants them literally right outside his window! Consider environmental management, shut the curtains? Have the tv and radio a notch or two louder? Block off access to the garden if you know there are fireworks nearby?
2. Train – nothing can beat a bit of classical conditioning on firework night, pairing the sound of fireworks with something very positive like food! A bit of yummy food whilst doing some fun training will be not only good for your pup, but fun for you too!
3. Distract – if you find your pup is a bit bemused by this strange sound, not to worry, distract with a new toy or game, and have some fun! Distraction and redirection may help your pup to settle and desensitize him to this strange sound.
4. Calming aids – as I said earlier, I am working on the assumption your pup has never experienced fireworks before, so calming aids may well not even be needed. However, some feel they help (research proving scientific efficacy of such aids is fairly non-existent, however I know people who do swear by these thing!).
5. Relax!! – your pup may well be just fine! Enjoy your evening, have fun with your pup, have lots of available toys and activities planned, a stuffed kong? A new yummy treat to give? A new interactive toy? Enjoy it and certainly don’t panic before your puppy does.
How many of you have heard “you have to ignore your puppy because otherwise you reinforce the fear”?? Lots of you I don’t doubt. It seems to be a common line of thought, but it is actually not true. This simply isn’t how learning takes place, you can only reinforce a behaviour, not an emotional response. Fear is an emotion, there is no thought in fear it is not a ‘doing’ behaviour, not an operant behaviour, no thinking or learning or planned action takes place, (if you want to get really scientific, strong/intense emotions such as fear bypass the cortex), therefore no learning will be taking place. If something is to be reinforced, something needs to be learned or an association needs to be made and a behaviour needs to increase in frequency, intensity or duration. You COULD feasibly, in theory, reinforce the behaviours shown ie. going behind a chair, or laying under your legs, this is a ‘doing’ behaviour borne out of the emotional response to the fireworks. However if we really think about it, a puppy or dog in that emotional state is highly unlikely to be able to learn under such circumstances. Studies show a puppy or dog experiencing a high degree of stress will have a huge decrease in learning abilities. Remember, there is a huge difference between reinforcing behaviour (operant actions), and conditioning emotions ie. I’m going to pair the sight of a cat with some sausage every time my dog sees a cat, so he starts to have a positive emotional response to cats because of the emotional response associated with sausage! A silly example, but you get my point.
Just FYI, research has actually shown that stroking can even decrease the stress response and fear! (Hennesey et al. 1998). So, stroke your puppy if you want, it won’t make a bit of difference. At best it may be calming for your puppy, at worst it just won’t make any difference.
Remember the 3 P’s!!
PREPARE – interactive games, toys, training fun, stuffed kong?
PREVENT – environmental management, curtains? Tv? Cosy pen/crate?
PRESUME – presume there won’t be an issue, there probably won’t be!
You may not want to go and watch the fireworks but you will at least have a LOT of fun with your puppy staying in and enjoying yourselves!
If you need more information or advice just get in touch!