We ran a Q&A session on 19 October 2015 and firework fear was a hot topic! Many pet owners sent in their questions about their dog’s behaviour during the firework season, read on to see our top tips on keeping your dog calm this year.
Q. It’s that dreaded time of year again, where all the fireworks start going off, what can I do to keep my dogs calm? They both shiver with fright, I usually take them to bed and stay up cuddling them all night, it’s no good when you’ve got work the next day.
You are not alone! It is estimated that about 45% of the UK dog population show signs of stress during fireworks, and there are many things that we can do to help your dogs feel more settled at this time of year.
In the run up to firework night, make sure that your dog has a safe place, or haven where they can retreat to. This should be in a quiet area of your house where your dog will feel in control. Making a den out of blankets under a table can be a good option, or covering a dog crate to make it dark. You could also consider slipping a t-shirt or jumper of yours in there too so there is a comforting familiar scent for the dog to cuddle up to , you could put some of your dogs’ toys inside to help them understand that it is a secure place, and change these toys regularly to prevent boredom. Make the den easily accessible for your dog for when they feel afraid. Do not try and tempt them out of this hide away – let he/she stay there as long as they need to. If your dog already has a den that they like to hide in, then let them use this. When the fireworks are over, offer her a nice treat and lots of cuddles!
We recommend lots of exercise during the day of the event, to burn off any excess energy that may cause unnecessary stress. Make sure that you walk your dog before nightfall to ensure that she has had a chance to go to the loo – it may be a good few hours before it is “safe” enough to venture out again. You should also try to feed them before the fireworks begin, in case they are too stressed to eat during the event which could cause them further stress by becoming hungry.
Ensure that they are inside at the times that fireworks are likely to be let off. Keeping the television on or playing the radio can help to drown out the sounds from outside, and keeping all of the curtains drawn to try and prevent them witnessing the flashes of light accompanying the bangs is also quite useful. Allow your dog to follow you from room to room, and if they come to you for comfort act normally, stroke and talk to them calmly – don’t over fuss her or reward anxious behaviour with food or treats; when she is calm – reward them with treats or toys. Try and act as normal as possible, if you begin to worry and act oddly the dog will pick up on this and start to become more anxious. It can be very distressing seeing our pets frightened, but being confident and calm with them can really make a difference.
It might also be worth using a pheromone diffuser on the run up to bonfire night and New Year’s Eve. This clever gadget emits calming hormones – similar to the ones their mum would have given off when nursing, making them feel calm. All you need to do is plug in the diffuser 1-2 weeks before the event, to give your home a relaxing atmosphere for your dog. We recommend either ‘Adaptil’ or ‘DAP’, please pop into the clinic or give us a call if you wish to discuss what the best option is for your dog.
Medication is not always the answer, but if your dog is really not responding to anything it may be something to consider. Capsule medications are frequently used at this time of year to help with frightened pets. In severe cases we sometimes need to give slightly stronger medication. Come and talk to us about the options available.
There is also a desensitisation program available, which is designed to help dogs become less worried about the bangs, whizzes and pops that are so common between November and January each year. This is not a quick fix, and needs to be started several months prior to firework night. It is in the form of very low level firework noise to help dogs become less worried about it. The desensitisation program can also be used in puppies to prevent noise phobias developing. Find out more in our blog; Fireworks and Pets.
Q. How can I stop my dog from barking and howling during the fireworks? He doesn’t seem scared, just really over-excited and noisy!
First and foremost, this is a very common problem during the firework season, as fireworks are so loud and stimulating it can make dogs a little wound up, although he is being loud and barking he may still be a bit frightened. It can be tricky to resolve this behaviour as it takes patience, perseverance, consistency and repetition.
It’s important to find the trigger of this new behaviour: is it to get attention, as a warning, due to anxiety or frustration?
If your dog seems frustrated or anxious, we recommend using dog puzzles or food toys to help distract your dog and get his mind concentrating on something positive. You need to make sure you take your dog out for plenty of exercise, this will also help.
Do not encourage the loud behaviour; Try not to reward the barking, even shouting at a dog is considered a reward as he gains a response from you. It is best to ignore the barking. If he calms down and acts as you would like, then you can reward him with a treat or his favourite toy; Your dog will soon learn that barking no longer earns a reward from you.
If he comes to you for attention, calmly stroke him and talk as you would normally. The points raised in our noise phobia blog, can really go a long way in making your dog feel more confident. It is not a problem that is likely to go away in the space of a few days or weeks but it can be rectified so don’t lose faith.
Please find our behaviour blog here. Unfortunately there are no shortcuts with behavioural problems. There are lots of other things that can be done but these are the first steps we would recommend.