FIREWORKS & DOGS – The “PETRIFIED” Guide
In an ideal world, if you have a noise phobic dog, you will have spent the last few months doing slow noise training ready for the fireworks season. However it’s not an ideal world, and life has probably got in the way. So you, and thousands of other owners, are now dreading the approaching fireworks with a dog that, at best, barks and runs around or, at worst, shakes, drools and rips its nails out trying to escape.
Watching an animal we love in terror from scary noises is never nice, but thankfully there are things we can do to help them. Widget’s Farm has provided the PETRIFIED guide…
P… PREPARE – If you can only get one thing ready for your dog, it’s definitely their “safe haven”. Make a cosy, padded den and, long before the fireworks, randomly fill it with yummy things to encourage your pup to keep checking it out. If your pup already has their own safe haven, such as under a bed, then improve it by draping bedding over the sides and placing something soft to lie on. You can even tie a tasty stuffed KONG in the space so they learn to settle down there. Also choose a location where the dog already likes to settle and is away from footfall and doorways. A quiet corner in the sitting room or kitchen is best or even beside the sofa so they are near to you - pop a piece of wood on the top and you have a side-table.
E… EQUIPMENT. There are things that have been shown to help some dogs such as anti-anxiety coats and DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) diffusers. DAP works by telling the pup that they are in a safe place and to stay where they are – it’s what the mother dog uses to ensure the young litter don’t go wandering off while she’s out hunting. For the DAP diffuser to help, it needs to be plugged in within 2 feet of where the dog already chooses to sleep. Anti-anxiety and normal dog coats have also been shown to help anxiety a little – one theory is that a coat helps by applying pressure to the hair follicles, part of the vestibular system.
T… TABLETS. For those dogs who respond more fearfully with pacing, drooling, shaking, hiding or more, seeking temporary medical help from your vet can be a useful solution for very anxious cases. And no, it may not be “natural”, but there is nothing natural about sending very loud and bright rockets into the sky, and expecting our confused faithful friends to cope. Homeopathy may seem more palatable, but it has not been shown to be any more effective than placebos in blind studies (Cracknell & Mills, 2008).
R… REDUCE Scary things are less scary if we have reduced their contrast. That means that if you have the TV or music on, the bangs won’t seem as loud. Having lots of lights on, and the curtains shut, will also reduce the impact of the flashes. Remember to set the house up with the background noise and curtains shut as soon as it gets dark as it will reduce the dog’s anxiety building in the first place. If you’re out and not returning until after dark, set your house up before your leave.
I… INSIDE. Keep all pets, cats included, shut inside during fireworks. If you live in an area where unhelpful neighbours let fireworks off randomly, then avoid walking them after dusk and, if you have to, keep your dog on a lead with a snug secure harness during evening walks. You can also have fun training your cats recall and then keep the cat in as soon as it starts to get dark. Fireworks season always sees a huge rise in lost pets, as they get spooked and can run quickly out of their familiar areas.
F… FREE access always to their safe haven, wherever that is. If that is under the bed upstairs then make sure the doors are all open to get there, particularly when you’re not home.
I… IGNORE or INTERACT. If your pup copes by hiding behind something, then as long as they are in a safe spot, leave them be. We might want to offer comfort but coaxing them out before they’re ready won’t help. On the other side, don’t worry about giving pats and cuddles to your dog if they seek comfort during the fireworks - remember that you can’t reinforce an emotion, such as fear. You could even practise some calm massages before the night in preparation. This should not be a long term solution though as the dog is relying on you and will struggle to cope when alone.
E… EXHAUST! Provide lots of sniffy walks, games and activity feeders all day before the fireworks - get them as mentally tired as you can and this will help reduce their anxiety. Don’t waste food in a bowl - do scatter it in the garden, soak it and stuff it in a Kong, use a snuffle mat or wrap it in an old towel for them to gradually unwrap.
D… DISTRACT. Many dogs will be too anxious during the fireworks to eat but, if not, settle them down with high value chews, such as a raw bone or stuffed kong, and they just might say “Fireworks, what fireworks”? Remember to give them their special treat just before they start, otherwise the initial shock might reduce the chance they settle down with the chew.
Finally, you can always go for a drive – assuming you are only plagued by one official event near you and you know exactly when it starts. We’re told that motorways are a good escape option as you usually can’t see or hear anything. I've taken this approach with a visiting foster dog and it was really very relaxing.
And once fireworks season is over, get in touch with Widget’s Farm or any other qualified behaviourist, and we’ll help you with treatment long before next years flashy monsters come to town.