Dealing with Seasonal Jumps and Scares

28/09/2017

With the long summer evenings, flip flops and ice creams now a distant memory, we can excitedly look forward to all that autumn brings – for those of us with dogs, this includes the joy of long muddy dog walks and crunching through fallen leaves.  Autumn also brings with it two of our favourite events, Halloween and Bonfire Night, both long-standing traditions that bring pleasure to children and adults alike.

 

But these times can also bring stress and worry for our pets who simply do not understand the joy of standing in a cold field, oohing and aahing at bright lights in the sky, or dressing in scary costumes and knocking on neighbours’ doors.  Puppies in particular can find these events terrifying if not given the help and support to learn how to cope.  Here we have some pointers to help you to prepare your puppy for pops, bangs, whizzes and ghouls!

 

  1. Please note if your puppy/dog is already showing signs of anxiety around loud noises or fireworks, you will need to contact a fully qualified behaviourist who will be able to work with you to address the problem – see www.apbc.org.uk to find a member.

 

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!

With a few weeks to go before Halloween, the shops are full of masks and costumes -what better opportunity to get hold of some for yourself!  If you can expose your puppy to a scary devil mask now, in the safety of their own home, worn by someone they know well, it will be far less daunting for them if they encounter something similar when the children come trick or treating.  Pop the mask on a few times a day and do something that the puppy enjoys whilst wearing it – feed some treats or play a favourite game.  The puppy will soon learn that the mask predicts nice things happening and will look forward to seeing you wearing it!

 

To answer, or not to answer

For some people, it is a real pleasure to answer the door to hordes of ghosts and ghouls on Halloween and if this is the case in your household, why not use the opportunity to socialise your puppy at the same time?  Have some of pup’s favourite treats in a bowl by the door and, when you answer the door to the trick or treaters, ask them each to feed your puppy a doggy treat before they themselves get rewarded with a human treat.  Take care to watch your puppy carefully for signs of distress and be sure to react accordingly, giving them distance from the visitors, or taking them away if it is all too much.  Most puppies will love the opportunity to meet lots of new, unusual faces, whilst getting a few of their favourite treats!

 

If your puppy has already shown signs of being shy around new people, this is probably not the best time to try and socialise them – things that go bump in the night might be a little too much for a first-time meeting!  Instead, consider leaving your puppy in a safe, comfortable place whilst you answer the door.  Give them a Kong or a tasty chew to keep them occupied and close a door between them and you, to ensure they are safe.  Or, follow the fashion to put a polite notice on the door asking trick or treaters not to knock, and instead leaving a bowl of treats for them to help themselves to.

 

A safe place

It is a great idea to ensure that all puppies have their own den, a safe haven tucked in a corner of the family home, where they can retreat to, and feel safe, whenever things get too much.  With bangs and whizzes just weeks away, this den is more important than ever.  It might be a crate (with the door left open) if the puppy is happily crate-trained, or it may just be a comfortable bed, positioned between a wall and the arm of the sofa.  The puppy should be allowed to enter their safe space whenever they choose and a house rule should be set that they should not be interrupted whilst there.  This helps puppies to learn that they are safe, making them feel more confident.  Think about how comforting it feels to sit on the sofa with a duvet over you and a cup of your favourite hot chocolate when you are feeling a little low.  It’s the same for our puppies – make a positive association now and they will choose to retire to their den whenever they feel the need for a rest from the household antics, be they Halloween or Bonfire Night filled, or at any other busy times.

 

Sounds scary?

There are several sounds programmes on the market that will help you to prepare your puppy to cope with a wide range of everyday sounds.  Research shows that puppies that are safely and gradually exposed to different sounds during their early socialisation period (3-16 weeks of age) are often able to cope more effectively with novel, frightening sounds.  The Dogs Trust offers a free downloadable sounds programme, and accompanying booklet, which is proved to be effective, safe and easy to use.  For more information, or to download the programme, visit https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/help-advice/dog-behaviour-health/sound-therapy-for-pets

 

Alternatively, you can order the Puppy School Sounds for Life CD from the Puppy School website.  Visit http://www.puppyschoolshop.co.uk/home/9-sounds-for-life-cd.html

 

Learn to speak dog

Dogs (including puppies) are able to tell us everything we need to know about how they are feeling, through their body language – we just need to learn to read this new, foreign language!  Anxious dogs will show their distress through a range of behaviours from licking their lips to yawning, turning their head away, shaking or panting.  If we, as owners, can become skilled at reading the early signs that our puppies are feeling a little uncomfortable about a situation, we can take action to make them feel better.  This in turn helps them to feel more confident in the future.  When reassuring your puppy, do so in a jolly way rather than being too sympathetic, which could come across as being anxious yourself.  But don’t be afraid to support them, they will thank you for it!

 

Enjoy your Autumn, embrace the change of season and look forward to the celebrations.  If you can take on board some of the points above, they will help to ensure that your puppy has as fantastic a time as you. 

Happy Halloween………

halloween dogs

Big thanks to owner Emma Louise for her amazing Halloween photo. We just had to share it again for this article...

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