Help my dogs afraid of Fireworks
It’s a cold autumnal or winter evening: the curtains are drawn, the volume on the television is turned up loud and you’ve just turned down another social engagement. Sound familiar? If so, then it’s probably because you own a dog who is scared of fireworks.
While we tend to take loud noises in our stride, the same isn’t always true for our dogs. Sudden, unexpected and loud noises will usually startle most dogs to some degree, but fireworks can be particularly difficult for many to deal with. Such fears can occur in any dog, of any breed, and at any age. Sometimes they are created or reinforced by the behaviour of humans in the household or other pets who may exhibit anxiety; other possible reasons may include:
Physical sensitivity: The mechanics of a dog’s hearing lend themselves to physical discomfort not only from the loudness of the bangs but the movement of air they create.
Noise sensitivity: This is different from physical sensitivity and is more likely to occur in dogs who are generally anxious and fearful. The root cause may stem from a lack of exposure to novel sounds as a puppy.
Traumatic event: The classic ‘one experience’ learning event when something is so frightening that it sticks with your dog forever, like the firework going off above him on a late night walk.
Ageing or health problems: There are certain medical conditions which can contribute to, or cause a dog to become noise sensitive – back and hip problems, undiagnosed ear infections and the onset of arthritis for example, are commonly seen in pets with this issue.
Life change: A change in routine or bigger life event like moving or family break ups can be very traumatic for dogs. These confidence-busting occasions can promote a sudden onset of anxiety in many areas of a dog’s life including sensitivity to noise.
Keys to a stress-free firework season
The key to a stress-free firework season is in the preparation and using a multifaceted approach to the problem. Start your preparations at least a month before the big night, so your dog has time to make positive changes for the better in coping with the noise.
Every year many dogs are injured, go missing or are killed as a result of fireworks being set off while they are out walking with their owners. Current UK Fireworks legislation sets a general curfew between the hours of 11pm and 7am, and a much later one on certain specific days: midnight on Bonfire Night, and 1am on Diwali, New Year and Chinese New Year. Unfortunately these curfews are not always observed or even known about by the general public.
Take your dog for his main walk while it is still light, and out again to toilet before dusk falls and fireworks can be expected to start, as it may be some time before it is safe to venture outside for him to relieve himself again. Wait until well after the suggested finish time before taking your dog for his final toileting break before bed. If he refuses to go out or you can still hear bangs going on, get up a couple of hours earlier than usual the next morning to let him out. Do not be tempted to go out for a last late night walk when you think all the fireworks have stopped.
If you do have a garden, don’t assume that it is escape proof. If your dog needs to go outside do not send him out there alone – go with him, and no matter how good your fences are, keep him on a lead, even if things seem to have gone quiet. If you think that this all sounds excessively careful, think again: more dogs get lost on 5th November than on any other date in the year.
Don’t leave your dog at home alone - or shut away in a separate room from you either, except very briefly if you need to answer the front door to a caller so he can’t escape outside past you. If he can be in the same room as you, he will feel safer. Ensure you have done all the necessary jobs for yourself so you don’t have to leave him in order to carry out activities such as cooking and showering. You will then be able to monitor him closely and provide reassurance and support if it is needed.
Make sure your dog wears a collar with an ID tag and is microchipped, just in case the worst happens and he escapes and runs off in fright when the loud noises start.
Stick to normal routines as much as possible. Where you need to change them slightly – for example to fit in exercise and meals at times when it will be quiet - start to adjust them gradually and well in advance, as abrupt changes to routine can in itself be stressful for some dogs. Make sure you feed your dog well before any bangs are due to start.
As soon as it begins to get dark outside, shut all windows and draw all curtains to block out any scary flashes of light and muffle the sounds of fireworks. If you don’t have curtains or use blinds, hanging blankets over the windows will increase the sound-dampening effect. If you don’t have curtain rails, drape them over spring-loaded tension rods which are non-permanent, easy to set up and require no DIY skills to fit.
Double check that all windows and external doors are shut. If you have a cat or dog flap, make sure it is securely blocked up to prevent escape attempts. Fear doesn’t encourage rational thinking, so even though the fireworks are outside, a terrified dog may still attempt to run out there, and once in the middle of it all will then panic even further. Leave internal house doors open however, so your dog doesn’t feel trapped, and has access to his favourite denning area if he has one. If he does want to den up, allow him to retreat but check on him occasionally.
If your dog is settled and calm when the bangs start, leave him to his own devices. And do not draw attention to them by looking in the direction of the noise, holding your breath or reacting in any other way than you would during a normal evening.
Keep an eye on the level of the drinking bowl, as anxious dogs tend to pant more and will get thirsty and drink more than usual. You may also need to reposition it nearer if your dog is too scared to move.
Do be aware of your own personal safety, that of others and of your dog at all times. Always bear in mind that a frightened dog may behave out of character.
Finally … Help is at Hand!
Many people feel that there is no help for their firework phobic pets. We are often led to believe that there is nothing you can do or that drugs are the only option. You may consider your dog’s behaviour to be unchangeable, that ‘he has always been this way’ and therefore will continue to be so. I can tell you that this is not true, help is at hand and fears can be overcome. It does however, take time and dedication from you.
Firstly, seek the help of a qualified, reputable professional. Secondly, don’t give up, as there is so much that can be done and with the right advice and investment from you, you really can help your dog’s fear subside.
Suggestion - Natural supplements
Consider using nutracalm, which is recommended by thousands of vets across the UK and Ireland to naturally calm anxious and stressed pets. nutracalm is a fast-acting natural supplement that calms pets within 1-2 hours and perfect to give to pets in advance of the fireworks or during the fireworks season.
For more information visit https://www.nutravet.co.uk/nutracalm/
- Jennifer Dow