Bonfire Night is a time of year that is dreaded by many dog owners and their dogs. The sky is lit up and many dogs suffer fear and terror at the sound of the firework explosions.
Fireworks and bonfire night can actually be a real ordeal for many dogs. Of course, fear is a normal reaction which is important to survival but fear that is out of proportion to the danger can be problematic to both the owner and the dog.
There are a number of things you can do to plan ahead for bonfire night and actually on the night itself to make things more bearable for a dog with fireworks fear.
It is not just fireworks that can cause fear in our pets. Many are also terrified when they hear thunder or other loud noises.
By introducing your dog in a gradual and controlled manner to the sounds they are afraid of, you are in effect desensitising them to the sounds. This is relatively easy to do but must be done very slowly over a number of weeks and with constant monitoring of their response. It is important not to rush any of the stages. Jumping ahead before your dog is ready will have the opposite effect to the one you want to achieve.
You can create your own sound recording or alternatively there are a number of CDs available, designed specifically for this purpose. Many include a variety of sounds such as crowds, trains, planes, cars, fireworks and more.
Once you have made or purchased your sound recording, play the sound very quietly as background noise while you both go about your usual day-to-day activities. Do not draw attention to the sound or fuss your dog. Gradually, for each session, increase the sound volume. The time you need to take on each stage can vary from dog to dog. Take your cue from your pet and do not proceed to the next stage until they are completely happy with the current volume level. Eventually the sound will become insignificant to your dog and they will ignore it. This is desensitisation.
For more detailed help with sound therapy please see Sound Therapy for Dog Firework Fear. There you will find more detail information about noise desensitisation plus a Sounds Scary Audio Therapy Programme that you can download for FREE.
Calm and soothe
There are a number of other products that could help a fearful dog, such as the D.A.P. Diffuser and various natural calming remedies.
Dog Appeasing Pheromone (D.A.P.) plug-in diffusers emit a synthetic substance that mimics the reassuring pheromone produced by bitches for their puppies. Ideally the diffuser should be used 24 hours a day, beginning at least 2 weeks before bonfire night and continuing for a week or so afterwards. The product claims it can help your dog remain calm and can comfort both puppies and adults during fearful situations such as episodes of loud noises and fireworks.
Homoeopathic remedies can be tried, such as Bach Flower Remedies. Rescue remedy treatment should ideally be started a few days before bonfire night. Put about 5 drops (read the label) into your dogs food or water each evening.
Other natural remedies such as skullcap and valerian act as a herbal anxiety-relieving combination and claim to help at times of stress.
You could also try an anti-anxiety vest for dogs, which are a drug-free solution for dog fear and anxiety. Whenever a dog is anxious, fearful or over-excited the gentle, constant pressure of the vest can bring calm and focus. Gentle pressure has been used to successfully reduce anxiety for many years. Feedback seems to show that they don't work on all dogs but when they work they really can help.
During the time of the fireworks you must make sure that you do not inadvertently reinforce your dog’s fearful behaviour by paying them extra special attention. This will only lead your dog to think that it is right to feel fear and also that by showing fear they gain your attention and comfort. This will reward their fear response and make it more likely to recur. Instead, remain calm and act as you usually would. Ignore fearful behaviours and reward calmness.
Lead by example
Your dog will mirror your attitude. If you remain calm then you encourage your dog to remain calm too. Dogs also learn from each other. If you have a friend who has a dog that is not afraid of fireworks, invite them round for the evening. Your friend's dog will help set the right example. A word of caution - learning by example can work both ways. If the visiting dog becomes anxious after observing your dog's fear, do not continue.
If your dog has been for a nice long walk or has played some exciting games indoors with you and is physically and mentally tired out, they will be much more likely to settle in the evening and less likely to worry about the noise, lights and activity outside.
Take simple measures to make your dog comfortable such as closing the windows and curtains so that the sounds are not as loud and your pet cannot see the fireworks going off. It might also help if you provide your pet with a safe house such as a cosy den full of blankets. Make sure your dog views the den as a safe house by providing treats for while they are in there and making sure your dog associates their den with nice and comforting things. Ideally, start this a week or two before firework night.
Some dogs can also benefit from being fed a meal high in carbohydrate (such as some well-cooked rice or pasta) which will help them to feel sleepier that evening.
Take all focus away from the fireworks by playing music and start a game with your dog, generally keeping them busy. Maybe treat your dog to a new toy and save it especially for Bonfire night. Some tasty treats will also help to create good associations with this time of year.
Find out the exact date of local firework displays.
Ask neighbours to warn you in advance of any private displays.
Make sure your dog is wearing a collar and ID tag in case they escape in fear.
Top up your dog's water. An anxious dog may be more thirsty than usual.