Dog whisperer urges owners to begin firework training

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A CARNOUSTIE dog expert is giving owners advice on how to control their dogs during the firework season.

Alan Brunton has over 20 years’ experience working with dogs and is urging pet owners to start training scared dogs now to avoid the usual fear which accompanies firework displays.

Alan explained: “What is the first thing you want to do when you see your beloved dog show fearful responses to anything that may startle him? Reassure him of course!

“That is a perfectly natural human behaviour to exhibit, we can rationalise in our head there is nothing to be afraid of and wish to protect and reassure our dog, who we can see doesn’t understand what we can.

“The only problem here is we can positively reinforce a behaviour we most certainly don’t want to develop.

“If a particular behaviour results in some sort of a reward for the animal, there is a good chance the animal will want to do it again.

“What do we do? Give him a cuddle, reassure him, give him a pat and tell him everything is going to be alright. In short we are telling him to keep doing what he is doing and we will reward him for it.

“It’s always good to remember that as well as ignoring behaviour we don’t want. We have to make sure to reward behaviour we do want.

“It is vital that the next stage is begun now, and not once fireworks are going off. Systematic desensitisation, basically means getting your dog used to something which previously may have caused him alarm.

“What we are going to do is repeatedly expose our dog to the sound of fireworks and have him associate it with a positive outcome.

“We need a recording of fireworks and there are a few crackers on iTunes, specifically from sound effect CDs.

“One I have found which is good is rather aptly although not snappily named ‘Huge Fireworks Display Sound Effect’ on an album called ‘Sound Effects Library’.

“It doesn’t really matter what you get, as long it has a good range of bangs, whizzes and crackles on it.

“Now here is the bit your dog is going to like, we are going to play it at a really low level (quiet enough so the dog doesn’t react) and give the dog what he wants.

“Be that food, attention, a game with a ball, it doesn’t matter, just whatever your dog likes most. Gradually over a few days you can increase the volume and ‘systematically desensitise’ your dog to the noise.

“Over time your dog will now look forward to the sound of fireworks! I realise that all sounds very easy but believe me it can be that simple, although it will still require a fair bit of effort on your part. The more you put in the better it will work.”

If this method still has no effect, Alan suggests seeing your vet for anxiety medication or a dose of dog appeasing pheromone, turning up the television and radio when fireworks are on and not rewarding fearful behaviour.

Alan concluded: “Regardless of what you decide to do to help your dog overcome any anxiety, it’s time to think about it now, rather than leaving it too late when the damage could perhaps have been done.

“Behavioural change is seldom a ‘quick fix’ but it can be a permanent one if you give it time to work.”

Alan has a first class honours degree in animal behaviour, and PgDip and Msc in wildlife biology, and has worked as an animal behaviour expert for the procurator fiscal.