Bonfire night is almost upon us and so many dogs suffer from some form of anxiety when they hear fireworks. The severity can vary from feeling uncomfortable to experiencing full blown panic. Today’s fireworks are exceptionally loud with intermittent bright flashes that light up rooms. To humans they’re pretty and we know where and why the bangs are happening, but to our dog that may hear them once or twice a year, they are totally unpredictable and unlike anything else in their everyday life.
Before the Event/a New Puppy – Desensitisation and Conditioning
1) Download fireworks noises- many on itunes or soundproof puppy app onto phone or computer
2) Day one, Just before you prepare and put Fido’s food down (all meals), press play with the volume at a reasonably low level and keep it there (so you can hear it but it doesn’t dominate all other sounds). As soon as you hear the first bang, start preparing his food as usual. Then whilst it’s playing, place the food down (in a bowl or scatter, depending on how you feed). Do your usual feeding pattern. Allow your dog to eat as the noise continues. As soon as your dog has finished the food, turn off the sound.
3) Day two, repeat but with the volume very slightly louder. We want a very, very slow progression of volume over a number of days.
4) Repeat daily for every feed time (if possible), gradually increasing the volume daily. By seven to ten days, you want it booming and the dog to be happily eating. Keep this going until November 5th.
5) If the dog is anxious and/or is not eating then you have progressed to quickly and the volume is too high. Slowly slowly! Step it down and start the steps again.
6) When fireworks are most likely to go off avoid the dog’s garden time. If he has to go out in the evening keep it brief. Have treats ready so any bangs or whizzes equal treats. If you hear a bang, pop or whizz, call him and find his mouth with food, then remove him from the situation calmly.
7) Preparation: Find out it there are any organised firework events near your home. Get an idea of the start time and ensure your dog had been for a very good walk and done what he has to do before the event starts. This means you can wait until the event is over before letting him into the garden to toilet. Also, you do not want to find yourself on a walk, far from home during a firework display!
The anxious or sensitive dog- preparation
Create a safe space or den; this could be their normal crate that’s covered, a table that’s covered or under a bed. Leave the dog alone if he feels safe there while the fireworks are going off. Do this in advance of the night and feed the dog a few nice treats in there so it becomes a nice place to be. Create a relaxation protocol– this must be first started when the dog is actually chilled and relaxed. A scent is introduced (see below for different scents), then the music, and finally a special food treat. This could be a favourite long lasting chew or a Kong toy stuffed with super scrummy food. Do this lots when the dog is calm and well before fireworks night.
Hopefully, by the time Bonfire Night comes around, all these things will produce the ‘feel good’ calming hormones instead of the fear-producing ones.
Plan for Fireworks Night/Weekend
- Keep windows, curtains and blinds closed to limit the flashes and muffle the sounds.
- Have the TV or radio on a little louder than normal.
- Don’t leave your dog at home alone.
- If your dog seeks comfort from you, then by all means give it. Old fashioned and outdated advice was to ignore your dog when he showed signsof fear as this was thought to make the fear worse. Actually it is impossible to reinforce an emotion, so if your dog comes to you and wants your attention to comfort him, then give it. In fact, slow long strokes may help calm him.
- Make sure your dog has been walked and has been to the toilet in daylight before the fireworks
- Feed him approximately an hour beforehand, extra carbs may make him a bit sleepy. Tryptophan, for example, is the precursor of serotonin (a neurotransmitter). It is believed its presence or absence may affect aggression and stress resistance in dogs. Some foods/ supplements contain this amino acid.
- Double check that all doors are locked and that your dog is wearing his collar with his ID tag, because when dogs are scared they may bolt. Check all fences and gates are secure and if your dog needs to go out when fireworks are going off put them on lead and stay with them.