Thursday, 1 October 2015

Desensitising Your Pets to Fireworks

Fireworks can cause a lot of stress among family pets.  The majority are far more sensitive to noise than humans are, so what sounds like a loud bang to us sounds like an almighty explosion to many pets.  While some happily sleep through the noise, others live with weeks of anxiety as the fireworks season approaches.

If your pets are among those that live in terror in the weeks surrounding Guy Fawkes, it is worth investing time helping your pet(s) to become less sensitive to the sound of fireworks.  It will make the fireworks season much less stressful for your pet and much more enjoyable for you.

Desensitisation is a process where you gradually introduce your pet to a sound or other stimulus that they are fearful of.  While introducing the stimulus (in this case the sound of fireworks), you help your pet to feel relaxed rather than afraid by introducing something they love such as food or a toy.

Here's how it works:

1.  First, identify something your pet absolutely loves.  Do they have a favourite food?  A toy?  Do they love being groomed?

2.  Next, jump online and locate a fireworks sound file.  We particularly like this file which provides fifteen minutes of fireworks sounds, plus accompanying lights.  DO NOT play this file with your dog around you at first.  We'll introduce them to the sound shortly.

3.  With your pet's favourite food, toy or brush on hand, begin playing the file on the lowest volume setting you have.  The volume needs to be at a level that your pet can barely hear.  Each time you hear the sound of fireworks played, get your pet's attention.  If they appear relaxed, give them the treat, toy or a brush.  If they appear nervous, give them a pat and talk to them in a reassuring voice.  As soon as they relax, reward them with their treat.  Allow the track to play for a few minutes, then stop.

4.  Later in the day, increase the volume a tiny bit and start the process again.  Allow the track to play for several minutes while rewarding your pet with their treat as soon as they appear relaxed.

5.  Each day, increase the volume a tiny bit more and add another minute to their session.  Keep an eye on your pet's reaction.  If they suddenly become fearful, try to hide, or lose interest in the reward you are providing, reduce the sound again.  Leave the sound at this volume for a few days before increasing it a notch.  It is important not to rush this process.  Increasing the volume too quickly can result in your pet becoming even more frightened.  Your dog's reaction will tell you whether you are moving at the right pace.

6.  Continue the process, increasing the sound and adding another minute to each session each day.  The time it takes for your pet to become desensitised to the sound will vary depending on how great their fear was to begin with, but the majority will be capable of tolerating the sound within a few days or a few weeks.  Many may even look forward to the sound as you've taught them that it's a sign that their favourite treat is on its way.

If your pet is still showing signs of fear by the time Guy Fawkes rolls around, follow the steps in our fireworks safety guide.  With a little bit of time and patience, you should find your pet's reaction is less severe if it has not gone completely.

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