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Training Teddy: Dogs and Fireworks

This time last year I was fretting about Teddy and firework season. I needn’t have worried. When Bonfire Night arrived and bangers and firecrackers were exploding up and down our street, Teddy couldn’t have been less bothered. But this time around I’m not sure things will go so smoothly. A couple of over-zealous, well-meaning children, keen to smother Teddy with love, have left this Miniature Schnauzer a little bit wary of newcomers. We are working on it. Meantime, I’m wondering if this new-found nerviness will translate to loud noises, too. While mulling this, I received a sensible email from our vet, sharing some ideas on how to ease a dog into the firework.

Zasman Vet says:
– At least a week ahead of time, prepare a ‘den’ – a secure place where Teddy can hide; he may already have a special place – perhaps behind a sofa, under the bed or in a cupboard. Either way, it should be somewhere dark, quiet and away from disturbing activity. Teddy’s den should have comfortable bedding, extra blankets to hide under and a bowl of water. Make sure the den is available at all times, day and night. Encourage him to use it by hiding chews, bones or toys there (unless you think he might aggressively guard them). Of course, he will be more likely to use the hiding place on noisy nights if he can enjoy going there at other times.
– Get a non-odour plug-in diffuser that releases anxiety-reducing pheromones (similar to those released by the mother to her puppies) – we recommend the Adaptil®Diffuser. It should be plugged into an electrical socket at floor level next to Teddy’s den about 7 days before the firework season begins. Sprays and collars are also good as alternatives. Some dogs need additional treatments or even sedatives (speak to your vet) to calm them down.
– Microchip him if you haven’t already done so. Escaped pets can easily get lost if frightened and confused.
– On the evenings you expect fireworks, give Teddy a stodgy, high carbohydrate meal about an hour before you expect the noise to begin. For example, a portion of overcooked rice or mashed potato mixed with a little of his usual food. Then take him out for a toilet break. Lastly, secure doors and windows and draw the curtains. Turn on music to help block out the noise.

During the fireworks
– Ignore any fearful behaviour and do not try to comfort him; he will pick up on your anxiety.
– Don’t get cross with him – this only confirms that there is something to be afraid of.
– Try to act as a good role-model; stay relaxed and calm. Having you around and acting normally will reassure him.
– Draw the curtains and increase the volume of the radio or TV which may help to drown out the sound of the fireworks.

– After the event do not show a lot of attention and encouragement. Teddy will receive mixed messages if you encourage him to use the den and then lavish praise on him for coming out again! Ignore him until fully relaxed later on.
– Remember what works well and be consistent in how you manage and interact with him during future fireworks events.

Well, that sounds practical and do-able. Why the carb-rich dinner? “Carbohydrate-rich meals often increase serotonin levels,” says Rodney Zasman. “In the brain, serotonin’s main effects include improving mood as well as making one more relaxed or sleepy.” I’ll be getting out my rice cooker, then.

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