Monday, 6 October 2014

The problem with fireworks

Neither Daisy nor Cybi have yet had to deal with a proper bonfire night - Cyb because he wasn't born until a fortnight after November 5th last year, and Daisy because she was only 9 weeks old and in foster care in a remote area. Knowing their personalities, I expect Daisy will take it in stride: she might jump a bit at the loud bangs, but in general she deals well with most things that life throws at her, and as long as the people around her are cheerfully unconcerned she is unfazed. Cybi I'm a little more concerned about. He does respond quite negatively to loud and unfamiliar noise, and can be reactive when he's fearful.

As an attempt to minimise the possible impact of fireworks on and around Bonfire night, we've started working on safe spaces and desensitisation training early. Cybi was crate trained when I got him, and has always used his crate as his little hideaway when he's stressed. He's also recently started using an area among the storage boxes under my bed as a secondary place to go when the world gets a bit much, and while it's a nice small space (smaller than his crate) that seems to make him feel secure I've been encouraging him to take his timeouts there. By nature, Cybi is quite prone to sensory overstimulation, poor little chap, and sometimes he gets so worked up and stressed that he doesn't really know what he wants to do. Gently guiding him into his timeout space, which is quiet and dark, just gives him a few minutes to calm down and reset, and then he's completely ok again, and as boisterous and happily outgoing as usual.

For noise desensitisation training, I'm using the excellent Sound Proof Puppy Training App (link is to the Android version; also available on iPhone) which has 26 pre-recorded sounds ranging from a crying baby and barking dog to a train and a helicopter. There's also a space to record your own, but when I thought about it, I couldn't come up with anything that my dogs would be exposed to regularly that wasn't already on there. The sounds start quiet on the recording and get progressively louder, and the volume can also be controlled by the volume on the phone.

At the moment, I am only really using the fireworks sounds regularly, with occasional quiet plays of crying babies, barking dogs and kids. Once Bonfire night is over, we'll do much more on these three, as Cybi particularly immediately focuses intently on the source of the sound whenever he hears them, and usually answers the barking dogs back, no matter how quietly the recording is played.

I started by playing the fireworks sounds really quietly in the background when the pups were being fed, progressing to increasing the volume at dinner time and playing them quietly when we had just got back from a walk and they were tired. By gradually increasing the volume and introducing the sounds at odd times of day we are now at the point where I can play the recorded sound at maximal volume as background to anything else that's going on, and neither dog will react at all. I've always been careful to never react myself, as in the early days when they still acknowledged the noise they were waiting for behavioural cues from me as to how to respond. They never got praise for not reacting and we just treated it as completely normal that there were now firework noises emanating from some part of the house, which has meant over time they have also considered it completely normal that for example the sofa has suddenly started to sound like a Catherine Wheel.

The next step is to hook the phone up to my speakers and slowly ramp the volumes up to the kind of level that the dogs will experience if someone near the house has a Bonfire Night party , while making sure that they both (but particularly Cybi) are clear that they can take themselves off to their safe spot at any time they choose. If the pair of them continue to progress the way they have I'm pretty optimistic that by the time 5th November rolls around they'll take the whole thing in stride.

Daisy failing to react to rockets going off across the room

Post updated to add: a couple of non-UK readers want to know what the big deal is about 5th November anyway. "Remember, remember the 5th of November!"

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I need to do this for my two dogs. They both cower and shake like crazy at thunder and fireworks. They hear these sounds way before we do, especially thunder. It makes for a very long night on those story nights. Thanks for this post. I'll be on the lookout for a similar program.