For many of our canine companions bonfire night and firework celebrations are a frightening and stressful event that they can’t escape from. However, as our post-homing support manager, Susan McKeon, explains there are several things you can do to help your dog and lessen the stress that fireworks can cause.
If you know that your dog is sensitive to noise and is afraid of fireworks, do speak to your vet about treatments that can help. There are a number of traditional and homeopathic remedies which have been found to be very useful at alleviating anxiety, however it is very important that you discuss any treatments with your vet before you start using them.
If your vet prescribes a medication, it is often useful to have a ‘practice run’ before bonfire night, to see how your dog responds. It is also worth considering that some medications and remedies only deal with the symptoms of anxiety, and although your dog may appear outwardly calmer the fear itself has not gone away. Don’t be afraid to discuss the medication with your vet.
Create a den
It’s a great idea to create a den/safe-haven before bonfire night and allow your dog to get used to settling in the den in the run up to firework season. The den should be in an area where your dog feels happy and most comfortable, such as by the side of your bed, in their crate, under a table, under the stairs, or wherever your dog feels safe. It should not be located by a window or an outside wall, as any sounds and vibrations are likely to be heard and felt more.
To create the den, drape some blankets over the area, provide soft bedding and a range of chews and stuffed chew toys, and encourage your dog to relax in the den. The is the equivalent of providing a safe ‘bolt hole’
The use of ADAPTIL – a synthetic version of the dog appeasing pheromone – has proven to be beneficial in lessening anxiety for some dogs. It is available as a collar, plug in diffuser and spray, and ideally should be used in the weeks running up to bonfire night. A tight fitting, calming coat may help too and, again, should be gradually introduced to the dog in the weeks before bonfire night – this helps to ensure that the dog does not just associate its use with the sudden appearance of fireworks.
Avoid night time frights
It’s amazing how spooky things look in the dark, and once the dark nights arrive, it’s not uncommon for some dogs to become reluctant to go outside. Things look very different at night: everyday objects that can be seen in the daylight, can become sinister looking in the dark, sounds carry more and things may smell different (fires are lit, nocturnal animals come out more), which can make familiar places become a little scary for some dogs.
If you can, walk your dog before it becomes dark (particularly on Bonfire Night); a long lunchtime walk will provide them with some good mental and physical stimulation and may help them relax a little more. If you can’t take them for a walk in the daytime, consider employing a dog walker during the firework season.
To avoid night time toilet breaks, you can always feed your dog earlier in the day and ensure that they toilet before dusk. If, however, your dog does need to toilet after dark, do accompany your dog into the garden, particularly if fireworks are likely to go off. It only takes one frightening experience, such as a loud firework going off, when your dog is outside alone, to make them not want to go out in the dark. .
Tips for Bonfire Night itself
On the night itself, make sure that all doors, windows and curtains are shut, and that your dog is safely within the house. Turn the TV or radio up, and provide your dog with a stuffed chew toy in their den before the fireworks start.
Make sure that your dog cannot accidentally escape – cat flaps and dog flaps should be closed and locked too. It’s important to make sure that your dog is microchipped and is wearing a suitable identification tag, in case they escape during the fireworks. In the event that your dog does escape, they are more likely to be identified if they are wearing a collar and identity tag and are microchipped.
If you live in an area that has a large number of firework displays, it is worth considering taking your dog to a quieter location or to go and stay with a friend or relative for the night. If you choose this option, do remember to update your dog’s identity tag with the temporary address
Don’t be afraid to provide reassurance
Don’t be afraid to reassure your dog. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot reinforce fear by reassuring your dog with a gentle massage and talking in a soft voice. Just leaving your dog to go ‘cold turkey’ with something they’re afraid of is more like to reinforce their fear, and increase their anxiety.
If your dog decides to hide under the bed, in the bath or any other place in the house, let them. Provide them with gentle reassurance and do not drag them out from their hiding place.
Prevention is better than cure
As with most things in life – prevention is better than cure. To help your dog cope with distressing events like Bonfire Night, you can help habituate them to loud unusual noises and other situations before fear and other phobias set in. By following a planned desensitization programme – which safely and gradually exposes your dog to different experiences, including loud noises – you can help your dog to cope more effectively with novel, frightening sounds like fireworks and avoid the distress that bonfire night can cause.