These days firework season seems to last longer and longer causing untold stress and turmoil for hundreds of dogs, cats and wildlife.
For a large proportion of our pet dogs the fear from these unpredictable, loud, flashing fireworks is so great they cause our dogs to salivate, pant, bark/whine, tremble, hide, stop eating, urinate and/or defecate, be hyperactive, claw, dig and clinging to owners.
Our dogs feel unsafe as fireworks do not make sense to our dogs, and they come out of the blue. Often fireworks are set off in all directions around us, on no specific days or times and now with the trend of fireworks for many a celebration and religious festival – it is not just November 5th.
Preparing our dogs to cope with fireworks should begin a good 12 months in advance, but this rarely happens, and most clients contact us in September or October.
This gives us 8 – 10 weeks which only leaves us with time for management / coping strategies.
Visiting your vet would be my first piece of advice. They will ensure that there are no there contributing factors causing the fear such as pain which can increase sound sensitivities. They will also look at the possibility of medications – from synthetic pheromones to anti-anxiety medication to sedatives. Using medicine should not be taken lightly and should only be done under the direct supervision of your vet following a full health check.
One common mistake a lot of owner’s make is that they think that if they reassure their dog or give them any kind of attention during the fireworks, they will be inadvertently reinforcing the dog’s fear behaviour, this is simply not true. By comforting your dog, you will not be rewarding the fearful behaviour they are exhibiting, but you will be helping them to cope better and feel better about it by measuring them and helping them feel safer! A problem shared, a safe lap/pair of arms! However, you should also be aware that some dogs will want to hide – this is also fine. Allow them to do whatever they wish as this will be whatever makes them feel the safest.
You mustn’t punish your dog for exhibiting any of the typical fearful behaviours mentioned above – even if they have urinated/defecated indoors. Imagine being scared out of your wits and the one person you can trust starts to reprimand you! This will not help to make them feel better – it will confuse them, and they will feel MORE fearful, stressed and worried!
There are things you can do during the firework season to help your dog:
Don’t walk your dog when fireworks are likely to be let off day or night.
Keep your dog indoors, avoid trips in the car. Toilet breaks should be done on lead to prevent bolting! Dogs in full fear flight have been known to scale 6foot fencing to escape.
Close the curtains so they won’t see any of the fireworks because the flashes can scare them.
Play music or turn on the television to drown out the noise outside.
Keep outside noise to a minimum by closing all the windows and doors in the house.
Make a den ‘safe space’ with old blankets for your dog to hide away, perhaps over the dining room table or behind the sofa.
Don’t take your dog to a fireworks display; leave them at home! This may seem obvious, but sadly I have seen this!
If you won’t be at home for the evenings, have someone stay in the house with your pets to calm and reassure them.
Prepare (in advance) lots of Kongs and chewable treats, licky mats and snuffle mats. Licking and chewing are both calming for dogs as it releases feel-good chemicals, so it will help calm them during this stressful period.
Planning your dog’s dinner will also help. Feed your dog an hour before any anticipated fireworks you know of as just like us they get a bit snoozy after a meal!
Talking of dinner – cook something super smelly for your dinner! It is also the smell of the fireworks that can upset some dogs.
To further minimise distress, you can use a Dog Appeasing Pheromone. It is a synthetic version of a chemical produced by the mother shortly after she has given birth. The pheromone reassures new-born puppies and naturally calms them. Scientists have discovered it also helps calm older dogs as well as fo a wide range of anxiety-related behaviour. These are available from your vets – be careful where you buy if you choose to buy online.
There are many over the counter remedies that are classed as natural. However, my advice would always be to consult with a vet before giving your dog anything natural or otherwise.
In addition to the above, you can also purchase a special CD that you can use to de gradually de-sensitise your dog to the generalised sound of firework sounds. Some CD’s have just the sound of fireworks while others have the fireworks blended into classical music. Both are best used by playing several weeks in advance of the firework season at a low volume when the dog is distracted and then as your dog becomes used to hearing the sounds in the CD you can start slowly increasing the volume and using at times when the dog is less busy/distracted. All sound CD’s work slightly different, so always follow the individual instructions.
Some dogs find a ‘Thundershirt’ a comfort. ThunderShirt’s patented design applies gentle, constant pressure on a dog’s torso. Using pressure to relieve anxiety has been a common practice for years.
Tellington Touch – this is a very gentle type of massage. It can help to calm your dog and make them aware of their body, so it can be a great way to help calm your dog when it’s firework season.
TTouch practitioner Melody Todd from Springer Loaded recommends the following massages
Clouded Leopard TTouch: Using your fingertips, move the dog’s fur in a circular (clockwise) movement around as if you were looking at a clock – starting at 6 pm, back around to 6 pm and go back around until you get to 9 pm again.
Mouth TTouch: Using the back of your hand, slowly brush it up from the dogs’ jaw up towards their ears. Alternatively, you could do the Clouded Leopard TTouch around the mouth.
Ear TTouch: By putting your thumb at the base of the ear and your fingers underneath, run your hand slowly down the dog’s ear until the end of the ear tip.
These are all basic TTouch technics that help relax your dog, by doing the circular TTouch movement, you are helping the dog’s nervous system run messages up to the dogs brain, which calms them down, makes them aware of their body and get them our of freeze or may help prevent them from getting in a major stressful state.
However, please remember some fearful dogs would instead be left alone – be led by your dog. If he hides, leave him, if he asks for attention give him some.
Book an appointment with a qualified trainer/behaviourist now to help you prepare for next year.