Monday, January 2, 2012

Old Dogs, New Tricks, and Fireworks.

Our little male dog was always utterly terrified of fireworks, thunder, any loud noise, but fireworks were the worst, they'd send him to his bed to shake for hours. It was a dreadful sight, and we tried everything to comfort him, but nothing worked. Our little female dog wasn't afraid when we adopted her, but followed his lead - if he was so afraid, there must be something to fear, and she became terrified of fireworks herself.

One day I was watching the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Milan, and he spoke of distracting a dog when they are afraid. I thought - how do I do that? I decided to get my dog a new toy, and keep it until the night of the fireworks. When the first one went off, I reached behind the couch cushion, brought out the new toys, and handed them out. He didn't know what to do - his fear was telling him to rush down the hall to cower in his bed, but he had just been given a new toy - he compromised by taking his new toy into his bed, and huddling with it there. Over time, we've worked on distracting him with retrieving whenever there's a loud frightening noise. He's a crazed retreiver dog.

Last night I was overjoyed when the first very loud firework exploded, and he rushed into the livingroom, grabbed his newest toy, brought it to where I was at the kichen sink, dropped it at my feet, and stood eagerly waiting, tail waving, ears up. He has learned to associate fireworks with play. It brought a lump to my throat and the sting of tears to my eyes - his terror was gone, as if it had never been.

If a 10 year old dog, (that's 70 in human years,) can learn to get over a life-long fear, can't we do the same?


  1. I love your story. And the thought you closed with. 70 is in my future yet and so I have not only my normal albeit vascillating hope, but now a restored great solid hope :) ! Really true. You just broke through some more of my muck. Thanks!

  2. I often get a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes when I watch the dog whisperer. I read YOUR post and got that same lump and tears. And yes, it is DEFINITELY because I relate it (like you did in your closing) to us as humans.
    I LOVE seeing the calm, firm boundaries and the commitment of people to do it over and over even when the dog is acting crazed and it looks like there is no hope. With that loving and consistent dedication, the dog responds! Just like WE (I) would respond if people could do that for us (me).

  3. Oh,oh,oh! This instantly made me cry. I was sooo rooting for him to be unafraid, but when he took his toy and huddled in his bed....I felt my heart break. Then again, at the end of the story, when he now wants to play and his terror is gone...I felt my heart break again. I am grateful that there is help out there for us all, including dogs. Thank you for a very moving post.

  4. Wonderful behavioral modification! I surely miss my old girl. She did not like fireworks either.

  5. I loved this. Thank you.