I had a young Labrador who was coming along well in training until a neighbour set off a firework nearby. Now she is terrified. What can I do about it?
It’s always a good idea to try and desensitise a youngster to loud noises during its early training. Start up the vacuum cleaner, the hairdryer, bang the doors, put the TV on an action film…
This is important because if a dog isn’t exposed to loud noises when still a puppy, it’s not uncommon for it to develop a fear of fireworks and loud bangs as it gets older. This is even more serious with gundogs who should be trained from a young age that the sight of a gun will bring pleasure and not fear of a loud bang.
Curing fear of firework bangs
I have cured several adult dogs which showed fear of bangs through a careful desensitisation process. I cured another dog, a six-year-old Labrador bitch, which was terrified of fireworks, by flooding its senses and using food as a diversion.
I stood about 500 yards from a large public firework display and during an hour of unrelenting noise she consumed her evening meal by being fed a nugget of food every time there was a loud bang. (If you’re going to do this, make sure that the food is particularly delicious – small pieces of chopped up chicken breast … )
The result was remarkable and her fear vanished for good. However, I recommend that before you start this retraining programme you get her ears checked by a vet to make sure there is no underlying infection that could cause pain on hearing loud noises.
Scared gundog: Loud noises make for a scared gundog.
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Of course, some dogs will always be frightened of fireworks. In which case make sure that they have access to their beds or somewhere they feel safe (which might be under a bed) and if they sleep in a crate then cover it with a blanket. Put radios and/or the television on to supply some background ‘white’ noise and draw the curtains.