IMAGINE you had ears that could pinpoint sound 80 metres away and hear at five times the distance humans are used to.
Sounds good, eh?
This evolutionary advantage has served our doggy friends well over the years.
But our habit of setting tubes of gunpowder on fire has become a nerve-shredding ordeal for many pets and, by extension, their owners.
It might be a few weeks until Bonfire Night, but the odd pops and bangs are already splitting the night sky over Flintshire and Wrexham.
Chances are they will continue on and off right through to the New Year.
Terri-Ann Corbet, a veterinary nurse from Daleside, which serves pet owners in Shotton and Wrexham, is inviting dog-lovers to a conference on doggy desensitisaion.
She said: “It’s always been something we’ve always done, but there’s never been much interest. It’s something people only think about during November because of the fireworks. People don’t know enough about desensitisation therapy and that puts them off.”
Nowadays, the use of fireworks is not limited to Guy Fawkes Night, or even to the hours of darkness.
Terri-Ann said: “We want to highlight the fact there’s something that can be done.
We’ve been talking to puppy owners who want to make sure they get everything right from the start. Desensitisation isn’t a quick fix, but it means the dogs can grow up confident and calm around loud noises.”
The process is simple enough.
Owners build their dog a “den” where they feel secure and play an audio snippet of fireworks going off at a low volume.
As the dog acclimatises to the sound, played at intervals over several weeks, the volume is increased.
Terri-Ann said: “The level of fear can vary from dog to dog, but it can sometimes be quite serious. They can react by crying, barking, trying to hide, messing and more.
“At the more extreme end of the scale, dogs may damage furniture or even attack if they are startled or if the sound sets off a fear response.
“Any dog has the potential to bite if he’s afraid.”
Terri-Ann said the consultancy session also focuses on owner behaviour.
She said: “People make the mistake of reinforcing the behaviour. If you fuss them when they are scared then it means they know they are right to be afraid and to seek protection. It makes them less independent.
“That’s not to say they shouldn’t be rewarded when a desensitisation session ends so they know they’ve done well.”
In her time at Daleside, Terri-Ann has seen dogs injured while frightened.
She said: “I’ve seen some damage done when they panic – not just because of fireworks but because they were spooked by some other sudden sound.
“I’ve known dogs who run off and impale themselves on fences, or who got hit by cars. That’s why we want people to come to us early.”
The consultation will also encourage owners to “read” their dogs to see how high their anxiety levels are.
So the process involves time and commitment. Why not rely on the ad-hoc technique of drugging your dog?
Terri-Ann said: “The problem with sedating dogs is that, while you can dose them up on November 5, you can never really be sure when a loud noise will go off at another time.
“Coupled with that, some sedatives don’t actually knock the dog out. They slow them down but keep the animal conscious. That means they are awake and afraid but are unable to move. It would be like having a human with arachnophobia strapped down next to a nest of spiders. It must be terrifying. It doesn’t address the problem of the fear in the first place.”
It’s not an expensive treatment, said Terri-Ann, nor does it have to be sought through a vet. Owners can download audio through iTunes – they just need to know how to use it.
One dog-lover who agreed it’s never too early to start was Becca Griffiths, 21, of Wrexham, whose usually laid-back Sprocker Spaniel flinches at loud noises.
Wilson is seven months old and has been undergoing desensitisation therapy for four weeks.
Becca said: “We thought we’d get him started on fireworks before Bonfire Night comes up. It’ll be his first, and while he’s a fairly relaxed dog, we’ve already seen that he struggles with some loud noises, like shouting children. He’ll run away.”
Becca has already seen the effect of anxiety on a dog. Her mother keeps a little Westie who “hides for weeks” around Bonfire Night.
The dog’s behaviour means Becca’s mother spends time waiting in the house with him to make sure he’s okay.
Becca said: “Having seen him be so frightened, I thought I’d give desensitisation a go with Wilson.”
The first session of just 10 minutes saw Wilson pace the room, a little agitated, until Becca turned the volume down slightly and he settled.
Since then they have been incrementally increasing the number of sessions and how loud the firework sounds play, and he is still coping well.
She said: “It isn’t difficult. We just pop the CD in, make sure his den is ready and get on with things. Once he’s used to the fireworks, we’re thinking of expanding it for noises like crying babies and loud trains. And I’ve been encouraging mum to take it up too. Her dog is getting on a bit, but if it can help make his life a bit easier that would be great.”
Daleside’s Desensitisation evening takes place on November 20.
For more information and to book your place contact Terri-Ann on 01978 311881 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Tickets are £5, refundable on the night. Light refreshments will be served.
l Steps you can take now:
Terri-Ann Corbet shared some advice on how to make Bonfire Night less stressful for your dog.
She said: “Provide a den for your dog in a hiding place. Ignore fearful behaviour as dogs pick up on your own stress, but do provide distractions like chew toys.
“During the build up to Bonfire Night, walk your dog in early evening, as people are less likely to let the fireworks off before dark.
“Make sure you shut windows and doors to reduce noise and to stop them escaping.
“You can put the TV on or some music at a low level to help muffle the noise. Ensure the dog or puppy has access to a litter tray.”