The Paper Bag Game
(Desensitizing Your Dog to Loud Noises)
© Dale Burrier
… First off, let me say that the majority of dogs have been inadvertently reinforced by their owners to be afraid of loud noises! Nuff said. Think back to the last time your dog was scared by fireworks, or a thunderstorm. What did you do? You petted them and told them “it’s okay!”
Okay to be afraid.
Watch a dog who is steady to loud noise. He could give a good doGdamn! THAT’S what we want!
For those of you whose dogs are not too far over the edge, the next storm or 4th of July, ACT LIKE NOTHING’S THE MATTER! Distract them further with a toy… or feed them. Tough love…
For those whose dogs are basket cases, we want to make a game out of dealing with noise. Go buy a bag of paper lunch sacks. 99 cents to a buck 99 for a hunnerd bags.
Take one out and wave it low, even right down on the floor, and tease the pup with it…. dare them that they can’t get it from you. Tease them to the point that they absolutely HAVE to have it! Have your kid, or spouse hold the dog by the collar… that’ll really get the drive going! Let them get one end of the bag (watch your fingers!) and shred it…. that’s the reward… “Killing” the bag and making a fun mess!
Why do you start low with the paper bag? Your dog is already afraid of noise, and maybe more. Just as you wouldn’t want to approach a fearful dog from above his head, same here. We want that bag to be subservient to him, lower than him. If this new thing is below his level, he’ll be dominant over the bag… that’s what we hope for, at least!
Do this for a week, once in the morning, before they eat and once at night, before they eat. Killing the bag, then eating is a natural progression… don’t make any further noise during this week.
Week 2, you will start to add the element of noise to the game. Gently slap the bag during the teasing part, right up to the “kill”.
Otay… so now you are slapping the paper sack. Read your dog, what is he doing? Is his drive still up to get at the bag? Fine, you’re doing okay! Has he backed away, tail down, ears back? Got that familiar look in his eye? So, back off a bit and start back to teasing just with the bag… let ’em kill it! Don’t be afraid to go back to square one.
Otay… rover’s doing fine, no fear appears to be present. GENTLY trap some air in the bag while teasing him with it… make sure he’s still keenly trying to get at the bag… and even gentler still, softly pop it. Immediately put it down where he can kill it! You can’t forget his reward!
Build up from this point… eventually you will be able to do what we did as kids BLAM! The bag popping can literally make your ears ring like gunfire!
Both litters of Tailers puppies at 4 to 5 weeks thought that the BLAM of the paper bags were their cue to destroy a bag, and would come running to get their bag.
To help with this training method, if you have dogs that are not sound shy, let them participate… as long as a fight doesn’t start between dogs… the fearful dog will see that the others aren’t afraid (this goes for swimming, too…) and key off of it.
Any time your dog starts to fear the exercise, stop and go back to the first step.
Hope this helps!