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My dog's scared of the fire
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My dog's scared of the fire

She's started acting scared when I light a fire in the hearth. It's our only heating source, and the weather is turning much colder. That fire is our only saving-grace. She slinks out of the room as soon as I set a match to the kindling, and I have to try and get her back in because she will sit out in the other room downstairs where there's no heating on, and shiver. (She feels the cold quite a bit, is very short haired) Once the evening is wearing on and the fire's been lit a few hours, she's OK, but when I light it, for a half hour or so, she doesn't want to know!
She wasn't like this about the fire years ago!

I tried, so far:
*gently but firmly telling her to come to me, sit in front of the fire (not too close) then if she starts to relax, I give her stroking and affection. She's fine with that, but suddenly goes 'off' again. (heaven forbid if the fire should make even one little crackle!) And if I dare leave the room, she won't stay in there.
*giving her one or two treats when she comes near the fire.
*never making an obvious 'issue' out of it

Does anyone have any ideas which might help here? They would be appreciated....
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19 Comments Post a Comment
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942557_tn?1272698419
Ginger,Do you think that maybe at some point she may have gotten burnt by a piece of wood that may have popped out on her?
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82861_tn?1333457511
Since it's a choice of your dog freezing or catering to her fear of fire, you're going to have to be more firm in addressing the issue.  

You might try putting her on a leash that is tied to your waist while you or someone else lights the fire.  Then it's a matter of making pleasant associations with the ritual.  Keep some really special treats handy - even steak if you have to! - and have her lie down next to you.  The idea is to keep her calm and relaxed as the fire is built up.  You might see shaking, yawning and drooling along with whining and struggling as a result of the fear and stress.  Try not to talk much, but focus on keeping her in the down position next to you and rewarding that behavior every time she gets up.  

Psychologically, it's pretty drastic to force her to directly confront the fear, but you don't want her freezing to death either.  Can you tell if it's the light, heat or noise of the fire that's at the root of the problem, or all of the above?
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881165_tn?1265988188
Do you have doors, mesh curtains, or a screen in front of the fire?  If you don't already have one, you might think of getting a more opaque fire screen, like one of the stained glass ones.  She might not freak as much if she can't see it.  Another option is to get pine cones to toss in and turn it into a game.  If you run around, have fun, and give her a treat every time one of them explodes, she might start to enjoy it.  On the other hand, if she's super scared, this might make it worse, so it's a tough call.  My Airedale used to be terrified of the hot oven and would pee every time we lit a match (don't want to know where that came from!)  I started giving her a taste of whatever came out of the oven (chicken, fish, etc.) and now she guards whatever is in there.  With the matches, I lit a LOT of candles with treats in hand until she got used to it.  If you can't get her used to it, consider hot water bottles or a heated bed.  
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82861_tn?1333457511
Great ideas AS!  Your story about the oven reminds me of our old family cat.  She paid no attention to the oven unless Mom was roasting a turkey.  We had to have someone hold her or she'd try to leap in the 425-degree oven to attack the bird.  LOL!
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675347_tn?1365464245
Phew, Jaybay! That would be one toasty kitty!

Right, thanks everyone for your advice. I don't let her sit and shiver, I call her back in, try to work at it, because England is pretty cold in winter. I have definitely used a few techniques already, like treats by the fire....playing a game of 'catch a stick' then giving it to me, putting it on the fire and watch it burn (and keep us warm).....roll over and body massage (if she ever shows the least sign of relaxation) It's just that every day it's the same old story, never mind if she seemed to respond the night before!
I think it's the little pops and cracks that she hates. However, there is a dog that doesn't turn a hair at the sound of a shotgun! Or fireworks! So (as usual) she is being darned illogical!

Actually she's a pretty well balanced, good natured, well trained, gentle, contented dog, in her usual dealings with life....so this is strange. She has a reason to be scared of the fire (I wish dogs could talk!) but I don't know what it is. Any other kind of heater she has no problem with.

I use a fire-guard to stop sparks coming out so I don't think she's been hit by one.
Maybe it's just primal apprehesion about fire, which I'm sure a lot of Creatures feel.

But I'll try your suggestions Jaybay, because the point is, she has to understand that I want that fire, and so she has to respect what I need her to do.
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1105699_tn?1258042286
I've just got here via Google search for "dogs that are scared of fires".

I have the same problem as you do Ginger. My dog (a cross between two highly bred and trained lines of border collie and cocker spaniel) has recently become scared of the log fire in our sitting room. She hates the noises it makes and runs out of the room when the burning wood makes a pop or a bang sound.

She is 3.5 years old and been fine with fires up till now. She is a highly intelligent dog but I wonder if some of the emotional instability that collies can suffer from later in life is beginning to make itself manifest. She is not (yet?) neurotic in any other ways though.

We are out during the day for three days a week so she is alone more than we'd like already (although a dog walker takes her out for an hour in the middle of the day) and it doesn't seem great that now when the family settles round the fire of an evening she is alone too.

We have been trying to encourage her into the lounge and keep her there by making a fuss of her, snuggling up with her and feeding her treats, but it's not made any difference. As soon as the fire makes a noise she's off to the door and as soon as anyone opens the door (whether the fire has made a noise or not) she's out.

It has crossed my mind to pull in a pet pyschologist but I really dislike the idea of doing this.

Any further suggestions will be very welcome

Simon
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82861_tn?1333457511
Hello Simon!  Nice to meet you.  :-)

One thing for sure that isn't helping is making a fuss over your dog while she's in a room and already worried about when that "awful, scary noise" is going to get her.  Petting and comforting her as you would a small child only reinforces the idea that there really IS something be afraid of.  

You're actually in a better place to start than ginger since you dog will go into the room, and you know that it's the noise of the fire that triggers her fear response.  Does she show any anxious behavior before the fire is built like yawning, drooling, tense posture or restlessness?

Again, you'll need to use the leash for awhile and turn lounge time into training time.  That room needs to become the place from where all blessings flow.  You might start feeding her in there as well when the fire isn't lit.  Make that the one place where super-attractive treats are available like cheese or even hamburger bits.  

If your dog doesn't know the "settle" command, this is a good time to learn it.  Teach it first in a "safe" room before moving on to the lounge.  With the leash on, say "settle" and place her in a down position and let her get settled comfortably in any position so long as she's relaxed and on the floor.  Step on the leash leaving just enough slack that she can move her head freely but not so much that she can stand up.  The short leash will self-correct the motion of standing up.  You can also be seated on the floor with your dog while you teach this command.  If the dog gets up before you release her, say the command again and place her back into position.  Sometimes you can use a treat to lure the dog onto the floor.  Make sure you have a release command and use it consistently so she knows when it's OK to get up.  (We just use "OK" for a release but it can be any word.)  Start with maybe 5 minutes and work up to 30.  Make sure your dog knows she can't get up until you tell her to.  Praise lavishly at the end of each exercise.

Once your dog knows the "settle" command, have her settle on-leash in the lounge.  When she's relaxed, have someone get the fire going.  You want to keep her in the settle position while that activity is going on, and keep her there when she gets upset about the noise.  Use the same techniques as above to keep her in a settle position.  Once she's nice and relaxed, she gets a treat.  No baby talk or rewarding the fearful behavior.  You praise when she resumes the settle position and then stop.  You may have to do this exercise a hundred times before she gets over her fear, or maybe once.  Every dog is different.

Your dog isn't neurotic, and it's not a genetic problem.  It really doesn't matter how she became fearful of fire, only to know that she IS.  I think your idea of consulting a behaviorist is an excellent one.  It's always better to have one-on-one assistance with any kind of training.  A behaviorist can help refine your techniques and recognize other triggers that you and your family may unknowingly be reinforcing the behavior.  Any kind of training is really about training the humans anyway!  

Above all, be calm, patient and assertive.  So often we don't give our dogs time to process what we ask them to do.  If your dog is hesitant coming into the room and resists while on-leash, give her time to figure it out.  Wait it out while saying nothing, but don't let her back out either.  You're looking for to voluntarily step into the room and may have to wait several minutes for it to happen.  Once she's in the room, heap on the praise.
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675347_tn?1365464245
Hey! I made a little progress tonight. Told her to "stay on the bed" firmly, gently, and no-fuss, while I built the fire, and she did! I rewarded her as soon as I saw her head go down to rest on her blanket (ie, sign of relaxation)
I did notice her head come up again when the fire popped suddenly, but I said "lie down"....and she did. She didn't run away.
PLUS she stayed while I fixed dinner in the kitchen! She usually stays in the room (under duress) while I am also in there, then slinks out when I go out to fix dinner. But she didn't tonight!

Also, I KNOW these things are much easier to work with a dog who is well-exercised, and pleasantly tired at the time.

It's so important to get the timing exactly right, too. Like Jaybay says, it's no use 'rewarding' (with treats or affection, or cuddles) at the exact moment they are feeling stressed. But to wait for that exact moment they relax, THEN reward them.
I admit it is possible my timing may have been a bit out before. Thus she may have ended up being rewarded for feeling scared.
The early evening is always busy with lots of little jobs to do, so I guess my timing could have been a bit wrong. It goes to show, if we want results, we have to focus on that dog, and the task in hand, and never do these things half heartedly, or while distracted, or chatting to people!
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441382_tn?1329196690
I'm wondering if something about the fire didn't frighten her, perhaps when you weren't in the room to see it?  Maybe an ember popped from the fireplace and landed on her, or maybe you had some damp wood in there that made a lot of popping or cracking sounds that scared her?  In any event, the fact remains that you need to readjust her to having the fire lit in the house.  I would boil some chicken and then sit with her by the fire and give her bits of the chicken.  Let her see that when the fire is going, she gets something she likes.  Also, if she's acting afraid of the fire, don't comfort her, that will only reinforce her fear because she'll think that she's showing a desirable behavior.  Don't comfort her, but instead talk to her in a really "up" voice, pet her, try to engage her in some play to make her forget about the fact that the fire is there.  Whatever her motivation is (food, toys, etc.) make sure she gets that only when she's in the room with the fire.  It shouldn't be long before she forgets about it and learns to focus on whatever it is she likes that is happening at the same time.

Ghilly
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1105699_tn?1258042286
Thanks very much for these suggestions. I will act on them. It looks like we may have been encouraging her behaviour rather than discouraging it.

I did wonder myself if she'd be hurt by something popping out of the fire but it seems unlikely as she's hardly ever been in the lounge by herself and our wood is pretty well behaved. However, she did get stuck in the lounge a few days ago (must have gone into it when we were out and the door shut behind her) but there was no fire going. Normally while we are out she had free range of the downstairs and the garden.

Again thanks. I'll report back with how it goes.

Simon
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82861_tn?1333457511
Great news ginger!  And great job as well.  :-D  Yes, timing is everything, and it's not always easy to be there at exactly the moment when you need to correct behavior.    Congratulations!  You're off to a great start!
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675347_tn?1365464245
Well, my dog has her moments (when she's illogical...lol) but she's basically a very easy dog to work with. Tonight we had another go at 'being by the fire together'.
This time she was still damp from all the heavy rain we've been having. I towel dried her then lit a fire. It popped a little. She sat with me but wanted to sit behind me. I told her "move" and indicated just in front of me. She did that. I said "lie down" She lay down, but wasn't really relaxed, just being obedient.
I didn't speak to her (except to give any direct order, which I did in a gentle but firm voice which she is used to when getting an order) or cuddle her.Because I could feel she was still tense, and only obeying because she thought she had to.
As soon as I saw her willingly stay down, and slightly relax, even for a few seconds,I rewarded her with affection. She lay a while, and I massaged her back. The fire popped again, and she was up. I didn't give her time for the mood of "let's get out of here" to come on her. I gave her the order to "lie down" straight away. We went round in these little circles for a half hour or so. Then when she did relax more I gave her dinner. After she'd eaten, she went straight to her bed in the living-room where the fire is! And stayed there again.
So that is definite progress. But I know I will have to work on this every night. As long as it takes-hey? We're getting there, inch by inch, I think!
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82861_tn?1333457511
CONGRATULATIONS!!!  You're doing better than inch-by-inch.  :-D
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Avatar_m_tn
I was trying to figure out why our old dog was doing this,
terrified of a fire he used to get so close too he would wake up too hot anyway because hes black.
I have the answer- for our dog at least.
It only started after he got his metal knee......
right under the surface....ouch.
and probably rather confusing when your leg starts to smoke and wakes you up.
Dogs arent so good on thermodynamic properties of titanium i would wager.
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675347_tn?1365464245
Well, as my old thread has come up again, I might as well add an update.
This was posted November 9 2009.....it's now January 2012.....
What's happened?
Not a lot to be honest. No matter what I did I could NOT stop her deciding she hated it when the fire popped or wood spat or cracked while it was burning! Every time it did that -she was out of the room, or if I made her stay she was sitting looking quite unhappy.
But if the fire was quiet -she was fine.
I had to compromise by never getting the types of wood in that did make noises. That means any pine or cedar, or Willow. (there are probably other types which do that but those are the only "bad" ones around here.
I have to carefully select firewood. Ash Oak, Sycamore -fine. Hazel...not so bad.
Anyone who has the same problem and their dog simply will not respond to "behavioural therapies"....google "firewood that doesn't pop when burning". There will be all kinds of different wood.
I worked hard trying to make her OK with a noisy fire. She never was. Not really, and she never will be.
I'm going to let it go.
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1832268_tn?1326819610
Hmmm...yes...well, my chihuahua runs out of the room like his tail is on fire, everytime he hears our bones Pop or snap...!  OK...I know I'm getting old..!
But, a very long time ago, I did read, that many dogs will be jumpy when they hear a pop or snap. The theory behind it, is that....it is a defense mechanism in the dog, to run, because if he were still in the wild....the sound of popping or snapping would be due to branches breaking, and therefore...signal the possibility of an intruder or predator.  Many dogs are just like us, in the sense that they want to avoid confrontation.
So...anyway...that's the theory.
Just thought I would share that with you.
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675347_tn?1365464245
That is really interesting. There well may be something in that. Also their hearing is more acute than humans (on average) so a noise like that must sound much louder to them.
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Avatar_f_tn
Hi,
My crossbreed is exactly the same as some I have read on here! She's a Rhodesian ridgeback crossed with a German shepherd, she hasn't been scared of the fire before but the last year at the most she has become terrified of bangs and general noises, we don't know what to do, she literally runs in and out of the room a couple of times and tries to go outside shell get as far away as she can. It's so sad to see, she was 6 months old when we rescued her from a rehoming centre near us in 2001, making her now about 11, 12? They weren't sure of her age. Please help?
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4642065_tn?1357498254
My dog was a rescue who had lived in a house with too many other dogs and was afraid all the time there.  In fact, the rescuer didn't think she was friendly with people, but as soon as I got her outside away from all the other dogs, she  is very loving with people.  

Of course, she was afraid of the toaster.  What dog isn't?  And the first months I had her, I noticed she was petrified when the central gas heat came out of the vents, but she would get used to that.  Then gradually, her fears spread to everything in the kitchen, beginning with when I turned on the gas oven.  She would slink outside.  I had an open flame gas stove in my office, and when the second dog was with her, she would sometimes lay out there to be near me at my desk.  

It progressed to as soon as I begin rattling pans in the kitchen, she is out the door, no matter the weather.  I enjoy cooking, so there is no reason for that.  She usually gets treats while I'm cooking too.  I tried to follow the rules and not reward her scared behavior, but maybe early, as it was developing, giving the treats in the kitchen (not knowing she was becoming anxious) reinforced it.  No way to know.  

I got a new gas heater for the office, but it's just like the old one, but she won't come in the house as long as it or the gas oven or stovetop is on.  Her other dog died 2 months ago, and I didn't realize how much she was the leader, and now my girl is just getting more and more neurotic and her fears just taking over.  The other dog, I believe, was leading her through some of it before.  I may have to try getting another dog to help, but I know it won't solve it.  

So I've tried the no-praise method when she's frightened, and then recently I gave up on that (after years of no results) and tried the sympathy method.  Neither of them is working, but the sympathy is certainly kinder.  I just try to convey that I am protecting her and for her to trust me.  She usually waits to come in until the office heater flame goes out, but once in awhile she will brave it.  And once last week, she came in the kitchen while I cooked on the stovetop.  I just wish I could end her anxiety.  It can't be good for her.  She's a wonderful dog otherwise, usually calm and loving, with no other bad habits.  
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