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Point 925

Approximately 92.5% silver; the rest could be anything.

“Boom Cookies!”

Author: KJ

10 16th, 2017

Here in Michigan, the laws were changed in 2011 to once again allow the use by private citizens of flying/exploding fireworks which had previously been banned. They are available for purchase year-round, and legal to use for several days before and after all major US holidays. Many people ignore the law and blow things up whenever they feel like it, and the police don’t seem to be enforcing the law. So , at least here, fireworks are definitely becoming a year-round problem.

 

Since many dogs are afraid of the sound of exploding fireworks, I’d like to suggest a drug-free way to train dogs who are fireworks phobic out of their fear, and preempt dogs who are not yet afraid of fireworks from becoming fearful.

 

Our greyhound boy Jack started to become afraid of fireworks right after the laws were changed and it seemed that all our neighbors were wasting their entire paychecks on flying explosives. One evening a neighbor’s bottle rocket exploded right over our backyard while we were outside eating dinner on the patio with Jack napping on his bed nearby. The neighbors continued setting off firecrackers, etc. and Jack started to show signs of becoming very stressed; pacing, panting, whining, asking to go indoors.

 

I know from studying dog training that mammals cannot physically eat AND be afraid at the same time. Physiology of the central nervous system does not allow for that. So if an animal is eating, it can’t feel frightened. If it’s feeling scared, it is unable to eat. So the idea is to get them to eat something every time they hear something potentially frightening–it counter-conditions them to the noise. Like Pavlov’s dog and the bell, it makes them think of food when they hear the scary sound. Eventually you can wean them off the food when the noise occurs, and they learn to ignore the scary sound. The odds are better that the animal will eat if the food is something really tempting, not just kibble or boring regular treats. Luckily, I remembered what I had learned at just the right time.

 

So I took some meat from my plate, cut it into bits, and kept Jack close to me. Every time something exploded, I said “Boom cookie!” in a bright, cheerful voice, and shoved a piece of food in his mouth. At first he spit the food out, but once he started eating the bits of meat I could see him relax. I knew it was working when a bottle rocket blew up right above our house and Jack looked at me for his cookie rather than diving under the table or cowering by the back door begging to go indoors.

 

After that evening, I kept a package of dehydrated beef liver in a sealed container out on the patio for the next time the neighbors started blowing things up, and reinforced Jack for calm behavior if anything exploded. Fast forward a few years, and now when things start going “boom”, he just looks at me to see if he’s getting a treat. Over the 4th of July holiday in 2016, Jack was recovering from serious injuries received during an attack by two pit bulls. He was released from the hospital only 2 days before the holiday, and I slept next to the ex-pen where he was confined during his recovery. The neighbors all had fireworks. Our street sounded like a war zone, and all night long there were continual flashes of light illuminating the living room where Jack and I were sleeping. The explosions woke me up every few minutes all night long, but Jack slept through all of it.

 

Every so often he will wince a bit if something big explodes nearby unexpectedly–this usually happens in the Spring when it’s been fairly quiet for a few months between New Year’s Day and Easter. When that happens I just say “Oh, it’s time for boom cookies!” in a chirpy-happy voice, and we hurry together to the nearest dog treat stash. After a boom cookie or two, Jack is fine for several months. We started our other greyhound, Guinevere, on boom cookies as a puppy as a precaution before she ever showed any signs of fear. She’s now 5 and doesn’t even seem to notice fireworks at all.

 

If your dog is already totally freaked out by the fireworks, this technique may not seem to work at first. Your dog may spit out the treat, or just refuse to take it. But keep trying. It will work eventually. You have to use really good, extremely flavorful treats–steak, chicken, roast beef, smoked salmon. Cut it into tiny pieces, about the size of a pea. If the dog won’t take the treat from you, shove a piece into the side of the dog’s mouth to give them a taste. You can also use soft treats like baby food meat or peanut butter, or anchovy paste in a tube or “spray cheese” (google “Cheez Whiz” or “spray cheese” to see what I’m talking about; it comes in an aerosol can). You just wipe or squirt a bit of the soft food on the tip of their nose or under the dog’s upper lip.

 

If you can get the dog to swallow anything, that’s the start. Just keep shoving food into them until they’re willingly eating. Once they are eating, they will calm down. No drugs are necessary to get a dog through fireworks fear, just good high-value treats.

 

Please feel free to share a link to this blog post anywhere that the information might be useful. I didn’t invent this training technique, and I do not recall who did. I first learned the technique on one of many clicker training discussion lists I belonged to back when people still communicated via e-mail lists instead of Facebook.