Nathalie Ingham offers her advice on how to teach your dog that fireworks are nothing to be worried about...
(Q) These days we seem to have a firework season, not just a night. My dog, Alfie, really struggles with fireworks and once it gets to the start of that season it's too late to manage the situation. Can I start working on it now?
(A) Battersea canine welfare trainer Nathalie Ingham says: You certainly can - and should!
There are a number of things about fireworks that frighten dogs - loud and sudden bangs, high-pitched whistles, flashes, and bright lights. We need to teach dogs that these are nothing to be worried about.
Changing Alfie's perception of fireworks from something scary to something enjoyable can be achieved by desensitisation and counter-conditioning.
Desensitisation is the process by which you make fireworks seem a neutral event. Start by playing the sounds of fireworks at home at a really low volume so that they are background noise that your dog isn't paying any attention to. Start with the sound of the firework that least scares your dog.
Over a period of weeks gradually increase the volume of that particular sound. Ensure that you don't turn the volume up too loud too quickly - go at your dog's pace. Next, play the sound (at a very low volume) of a firework your dog may struggle with slightly more and slowly increase the volume. Then repeat the process, this time with both sounds interrelated like an actual firework display.
It would be very easy at this point for your dog to regress if he experienced an actual firework display, and that negative experience would make him worried again. So counter-condition the fireworks by associating the sounds with something really enjoyable, so that fireworks come to signal the arrival of a pleasant experience. To do this, wait for the sound of the firework to play and then get out Alfie's favourite toy or food; put it away as soon as the sound stops, and get it out as soon as that sound reappears.
But, you should still take every precaution to ensure your pet is not exposed to fireworks.