How to train your dog to cope with fireworks

Picture of firework display (left) and Yorkshire based dog trainer Jay Gray
Dog trainer Jay Gray has shared some pearls of wisdom ahead of Bonfire Night (Picture: Jay Gray/iStockphoto)
Bonfire Night can be an absolutely hellish occasion for pets across the country who are petrified of loud bangs from fireworks.

It has led to half a million people signing a petition demanding a change in regulations, and a woman revealing her 18-week-old puppy died from a heart attack due to the noise.

But in a bid to relieve the tension of November 5, a trainer from South Yorkshire has shared a method used to gradually get dogs used to the racket.
Jay Gray told the technique is based on classical conditioning – famously demonstrated in the 1890’s by Ivan Pavlov. The Russian physiologist used food to programme dogs to salivate as soon as they heard a bell – which they eventually associated with mealtimes even when they were not fed.

Jay says the same principle can be applied to getting your dog used to fireworks, but urges owners to take a careful and gradual approach.

He recommends getting a good quality sound system and use it to quietly play firework sounds – only feeding your dog at this time.

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Jay, 27, added: ‘What is important when working under the term counter conditioning and or classical conditioning is that the dog should not be showing any stress signs.’

The trainer, who runs Obsidian K9 Academy, says lip licking, shaking, yawning could be signs it could be a bit too much for them.

Jay added: ‘It’s important to keep the stimuli, in this case a bang, low enough that the dog can build new associations to better things.

Yorkshire based dog trainer Jay Gray
Jay says overdoing it with the loud bangs would be ‘crossing an ethical line’ (Picture: Jay Gray)

‘Obviously all dogs are completely different and methods that work for some may not work for others.’

He said it’s all about gradually building confidence and that ‘flooding the dog with the stimulus is counter productive and crossing an ethical line.’

As time goes on owners can increase the duration and volume until their pet is dining to a backdrop of super loud booms.

Once they are ready, Jay recommends letting off some real fireworks, but far away from their house not to go over their threshold and spook them.

Owners can gradually move the fireworks close and closer, or take them to watch an organised display from a distance – but only if they’re definitely ready.

INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: Scientists believe that the world’s first known dog lived 31,700 years ago. This prehistoric dog resembled a large Siberian Husky.

This photo was taken at london during new year 2012
People have called for firework displays to be restricted on November 5 to ease pet’s stress (Picture: Getty/Moment RF)
It is definitely too late to try this out on your dog in time for tomorrow, but the RSPCA have given some advice on how to keep them as calm as possible while fireworks start going off.

Jay says breed itself doesn’t make a big difference but that genetic predisposition means some dogs will take much longer to train than others.

In a Facebook post on the academy’s Facebook page, Jay wrote: ‘If you’ve got a dog that is nervous or scared of fireworks, you have to sort that problem out.

‘They’re not gonna get banned, crying on social media about them isn’t going to make them stop, they come every year at around the same time and you’ve had a year to sort it.

‘There are plenty of dogs that come here because they’re scared of people but their owners don’t think people need banning, they train through the problem and this is no different.’

How to train your dog to get used to fireworks. Jay Gray.
But Jay says many owners can ‘train their dogs through the problem’ (Picture: Jay Gray)

But he still thinks people who want to restrict firework displays have a point, as they still can cause a lot of distress for farm animals and people with dementia, autism, and PTSD.

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A video shows one of Jay’s long term clients walking his two 11-month-old Siberian huskies Mishka and Lup through the firework lit street with no problems at all. Daniel Goodison said: ‘Honestly they’re absolutely bomb proof. I always get a lot of comments about my dogs.’ The plasterer from Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire, said five out of his six dogs ‘could not care less’ about fireworks as he’s been able to carefully expose them to loud noises since they were puppies.

He added: ‘That’s the key, if you hide them away from it then it’s not going to solve anything really.’