Welcome to the first edition of " The Dog Blog "
Written by Rebecca Short
BONFIRE NIGHT: A DOGS WORST NIGHTMARE
Bonfire night fast approaches and my heart is consumed by worry and heavy with concern. I frequently get asked about managing dog behaviour during the inevitable firework displays exploding in their hundreds all over the UK. So this year I have taken to my laptop with high hopes of providing some help for all the dogs out there, with humans searching for some answers. Let me shed some light on the truth behind the anxiety your dog is suffering.
A DOGS HEARING - KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
At a mere twenty one days old a puppy begins to hear for the first time. Once fully developed, their hearing is roughy four times more efficient then our own and they are able to pick up a greater range of sounds; hearing at a higher pitch. Motors inside our household appliances emit pretty intense, high pitched sounds that we ourselves can not hear.
This is usually the reason behind the stressful behaviours and assumed hatred dogs have for objects such as vacuum cleaners.
The ability and range of each dogs hearing, is uniquely different. Changes according to breed and like us deteriorates with age. Dogs are capable of detecting sounds between twenty-sixty five thousand Hz compared to our range of twenty-twenty thousand Hz. Not only that, but your dogs ear is physically designed and shaped to capture sound better than yours. It is also much more mobile thanks to having three times the amount of muscles ( they have 18 to our 6 ). An Alsatian for example has wonderfully acute hearing which enables it to detect sound that we hear at 6 meters ( 20 feet ) from 25 meters ( 80 feet ) away.
With all this in mind, is it any wonder that fireworks exploding in all their colourful glory, send a tsunami of panic rushing through our dogs. I dread to think how the high pitched whirring sound of gun powder, metal salts and iron filings burning, as a firework shoots through the night air, is perceived as it bangs off the ear drum of a K9. I have images of a nervous system-swat-team. Chaotically scrambling about the poor animals brain trying to decipher how to prepare for the next wave of noise.
Fireworks were created in China over 1000 years ago which is the only reason I can think they have managed to survive in the safety conscientious society we live in today. In the UK fireworks are limited to 120 decibel - that's the measurement of sound. An average conversation sits around 60 dB and out pain threshold sits around 150 dB. Surely then fireworks must be painful for a dog to listen to? Keep that in mind next time you see a dog exhibiting canine noise anxiety and stressful behaviours - shaking, whining, lip licking, excessive drinking, whale eyeing, destructive chewing, vomiting, defecating/urinating inside or pacing.
SO ......WHAT CAN WE DO ?
Ensure you take your dog for a good long enriching adventure. Mix up the pace, have fun and play some hide and seek. Go somewhere new so it really provides excellent mental stimulation and get them using all of their fantastic senses. With any luck they will sleep through the fireworks having had a great physical, mental and social outing. Provide your dog with an enriched life, filled with new sights, sounds and smells, and they will sleep well every night.
A SAFE PLACE/DEN
Give your dog somewhere to hide and feel safe. Use a room with reduced noise level inside a suitably sized crate. Place a comfortable bed inside and cover it with blankets. Place their favourite cuddly toy inside for company and a chew toy for releasing some of that nervous energy and stress. Put BBC radio 4 on, or a long mellow documentary to cover up the silence and ,make the explosions less alarming. If you do not have a crate make a den behind the sofa, or underneath a table - Get creative.
ANXIETY VEST'S / THUNDERSHIRTS
Amazing drug-free option of treatment; help's dogs that suffer from travel anxiety, noise sensitivity and separation anxiety. These cosy shirt's focus on hitting pressure points around your dog's body to create a similar sensation to swaddling a baby. Personally I hear great things and highly recommend them, I have found it can take 2-3 times of use before any solid results.
BEHAVIOUR MODIFICATION TRAINING/DESENSITISATION
Prevention is better than treatment. Gradually expose your dog to very low level sounds of fireworks displays using your phone/laptop etc. Whilst it is playing in the background, distract your dog with playful activity or some training. Keep it positive to counter condition the negative association your dog has with the noise of fireworks. Very gradually increase the noise level, if your dog becomes distressed lower the sound. Begin with short 10 - 15 minute sessions and build from there over time.
Youtube has a good variety of recordings. Only increase the level of sound when you are confident your dog is comfortable and can tolerate the current level with out becoming stressed. I have found it really helps to have a friend or relative that the dog knows well come over so you can engage in relaxed conversation to further implement a relaxed atmosphere.
LASTLY ...... be positive, compassionate and supportive. Encourage your dog to be brave but do not ignore him/her entirely. Stay calm and provide guidance and be patient. Remember your dog did not ask to live in a human world and needs help understanding it.