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Coz Baby You’re A Firework…

Beautiful fireworks are part of what makes Independence Day a favorite holiday for many people.  However, if you have a pet who is afraid of fireworks, or has a noise phobia in general, the loud crashing noises can make for a very long summer.

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Oreo is such an amazing dog; but one of the quirks he’s always had that I’ve never been able to break is his noise phobia.  Specifically, his firework phobia.  He does fine during thunderstorms, but come Summer time and the festivities that come along with it, I have a pretty miserable pup.  Even if the fireworks were popping off in the distance he would become inconsolable.  Each year he shows small amounts of improvement, but I don’t think it’s something he’ll ever completely get over.  This past 4th of July he spent the entire night wedged underneath the dining room table.

Over the years, I’ve tried many different medications to try to help ease his firework fears.  I even borrowed a ThunderShirt from a friend to give that a try – Oreo wouldn’t even let me put it on him.  So I’ve been trying to focus more on behavior modification.  It’s a SLOW process, but as I mentioned earlier, Oreo seems a little less stressed every year, so I think (hope!) that it’s helping him.

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In general, I’ve been using desensitization and counter conditioning to try to help Oreo get used to the fireworks and hopefully eventually associate the noise with something positive.  Initially, upon hearing fireworks, he would hide for the entire night – even long after the fireworks had stopped.  He wouldn’t eat or drink, would pant excessively, and his entire body would quiver incessantly.

The first year I tried simply blocking out the noise, which didn’t really seem to help much.  I’d have the TV on as loud as it could go, hoping the sound of Animal Planet would drown out any booms from fireworks.  That year I also catered to him completely – if he was under the table hiding, I’d be under the table laying with him.  After a few weeks of wondering why there was zero improvement, I realized that I was accidentally rewarding the behavior that I didn’t want to continue.  By showering him with attention and affection while he was stressing, I was in turn showing him that being fearful was a good thing.

Next began the SUPER hard process of trying to ignore him when he was showing signs of fear.  I never have been able to completely ignore him; but rather every half hour or so I’d try to get him to come out from hiding to do something fun.  Going outside for a walk is always his favorite thing to do – but when there’s fireworks even in the distance he won’t step one foot out of the door.  Probably for the best…Oreo has a history of being quite the escape artist, and the last thing I want is for him to get spooked and run away!

So on to his second favorite thing – food.  He would ignore his food bowls, sometimes going a day or two without touching anything in there.  I began playing around to see what I could get him to take, and the one thing that he ate every single time was his dog ice cream.

Currently, since Oreo seems the most content hiding under the dinner table, when there’s a firework show outside I’ve been letting him stay there – putting his dog bed under the table and covering it with a heavy blanket as a partial sound barrier.  Every once in awhile I’ll call to him, and if he comes out to me he gets one of his doggy ice creams.  It’s been pretty effective so far – he’ll stay out from hiding long enough to finish the ice cream, happy licking away and temporarily forgetting about the noise outside.  Keeping an easy-going manner and remaining calm has also done wonders for helping Oreo stay a little bit more relaxed.

Does your dog have a noise phobia?  What have you done to try to help them conquor it?

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