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How can I prepare my dog for next year? Desensitisation and counterconditioning

When a dog is scared of fireworks they are sensitised to the specific noises. The normal fight or flight response is therefore heightened and the result is a behavioural response way out of proportion to the actual threat (i.e. fireworks are no threat to their health). The unpredictable nature of fireworks leads to this issue getting worse over time.

Desensitisation

  • Desensitisation is the process by which we try to lower how sensitive they are to the firework noises.
  • It involves playing these noises at a really low level (low enough so that your dog will not react or panic when they are playing).
  • Once they are ok at the lowest volume you then increase by a small level each time, again waiting until they are settled while it is playing. If they panic at any point then it is important to take a step back to the lower level until they are happy again.
  • This process needs to be done gradually over an 8 week period and once complete you can then try counterconditioning.
  • ADATPIL Calm helps them feel safe and secure during this process and allows them to be in the right “frame of mind” to learn during the process.1
  • The “Sounds Scary” programme can be downloaded along with sounds for FREE. 

Counterconditioning

  • Counterconditioning is the process by which you help your dog make a positive association to the noises they are hearing.
  • By using rewards alongside playing the noises they will start to feel more positive.
  • Be sure to use high value rewards – things your dog really likes
  • ADAPTIL Calm can also help create a positive environment for dogs undergoing this process.

This process requires time and sometimes some advice from a qualified behaviourist. You can find your local behaviourist on the APBC or ABTC websites.

1 Long-term follow-up of the efficacy of a behavioural treatment programme for dogs with firework fears. Levine, E. D. and Mills, D. S. (2008). The Veterinary Record, 162 (20). pp. 657-659. ISSN 0042-4900

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