Scared of fireworks – working with Breagha

I’ve been working with Breagha, the working black Labrador, for a few months now and we have had six sessions in total. Alison, Breagha’s owner called me a few months ago and was looking for general training to have more control over B when out, who at the time was a 9 month old at the time.

Initially, we worked on focus and control using loads of play, as B is, quite typically of Labs, very playful and eager to please. We taught her a really good recall, sit and down at distance and speak and shush on cue for when people come to the door.

About 5 or 6 weeks ago, Alison was out with B and a firework exploded and Breagha got a huge fright and ran back into the house. For the next few days, she would barely come out of the bedroom and was far from her usual self. Alison emailed me but I wasn’t able to see her until this morning because of scheduling difficulties.

In the meantime, I asked Alison to get Breagha super super excited in the house with a ball and tug toy, then run outside, ask B to follow her, and then throw the toy back into the house. This would hopefully get B into a better frame of mind and then bring that more positive state of mind outside where she was scared, so she would be more confident. This worked well. I then asked that Alison feed Breagha outside by hand in the garden and let B try to relax a little and again, classically condition her to a better frame of mind out doors.

Also, in the meantime, Alison played a fireworks CD at a really low volume almost constantly in the house when she was in. When B no longer paid attention to the low volume, she gradually increased the volume, this habituated Breagha to the sound of fireworks so in time she would just ignore it as background noise.

This was going well and Alison was venturing out of the garden with Breagha but B would sometimes shut down after becoming overwhelmed and would then have to be driven home. Alison tried walking her with her dog friend Ellie but this didn’t work all the time.

I saw Alison and Breagha this morning. We continued with the play in the garden, getting her really excited with tug games and chasing the ball and then I got her to chase me out of the garden onto the street while I had the toy and we played tug on the street and then I brought her back in and we started again, getting a bit further off property with each trial. We did about five or six trials and things were going well so we put her on a long line and went for a walk. This method used the principles of “front-loading” which I blogged about previously

Breagha was relaxed when we left the garden and we walked around the leafy streets with her leading the way on the long line. Because she is well trained, we could afford to give her plenty of rope and she happily enjoyed her walk. Also, because Alison has done such a great job of training her and building a lovely bond with Breagha, if she started to get a bit stressed, we could ask he to recall, sit and speak and reward her with a game of tug which then put her in a better state. I’ve also blogged about this previously

We let Breagha go at her own pace, watched her body language carefully for signs of stress and caught her before her stress became to severe and changed her mood. We also really fired her up before she went off property with the intention of not allowing her to be stressed in the first place.

B is well on her way to recovery and will hopefully be back to herself in no time. A number of factors made her recovery fast. Good training, a good relationship with Alison, a well adjusted and well socialised dog (so she bounced back quickly) and a dedicated owner.

A well deserved game of tug to finish a successful session


Interact with your dog, build a relationship with them base in fun and respect. Train them to do a variety of basic behaviours. You never know when you, and they, might need it.

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