Preparing Dogs for Fireworks, Bangers, Halloween & Bonfire Night!!
Why am I talking about this in September?! Well, making your dog calm
during bonfire night and fireworks right the way through to New Year takes preparation! There is a lot you can do in the run up to the firework season, as well as measures you can take at the time.
I’m going to concentrate on dogs, as fear of fireworks is so common in this species. All animals have the potential to be afraid of strange noises and lights though, so make sure you cover up rabbit hutches and keep cats indoors on bonfire night and any other night where fireworks are being set off locally.
Advanced preparation Dogs are often naturally wary of the bangs and flashes of fireworks, but like most behavioural problems, this is something we can train out of them. Unfortunately, some owners actually reinforce dogs’ fear by comforting them. Whilst this seems the obvious thing to do, the dog sees you comforting him as justifying his fear, and therefore makes him even more fearful. So what can you do to actually help?
You can buy CDs of firework noises online, which you can use to help your dog slowly get use to the noise. “Sounds Scary” is one brand, but others are available. If your dog is likely to be scared come firework season, buy a CD and start playing it now. Start playing it very quietly, below the level at which you can hear it, perhaps for half an hour a day, making sure your dog is not afraid. Increase the volume every now and then, each time checking that your dog is still ok with it. If he is shaking or shows any signs of fear, don’t play the CD for a couple of days and start off more quietly again. Eventually, your dog should become accustomed to hearing it at quite a high level, and so won’t worry when the real things come along.
Starting a couple of weeks before, install an Adaptil ® diffuser in the home, close to where your dog spends most of his time. This device looks like an air freshener and produces a smell that is like a chemical that your dog’s mother used to calm her puppies. This has been shown to calm older dogs too and the devices are available online or from your vet. You can now also get an Adaptil ® collar that releases the same chemicals. Whichever device you use, it will work best if you leave it on 24 hours a day, preferably from a couple of weeks before any noise occurs. However, it still may be helpful even if you don’t get it until the problem starts. I would not normally promote a specific brand, but I am not aware of any similar product other than Adaptil ® that has been shown to work.
On the night Sometimes people make no preparation, and sometimes despite all of your hard work, your dog may still be a little scared on bonfire night. But don’t worry; there are still things you can do.
Firstly, do not take your dog for a walk at night. Walk him in the morning and again early evening if possible, before it gets dark. Make sure you take him out for toileting just before it gets dark so he is comfortable later on. Keep him on a lead, in case fireworks start early, to prevent him from bolting.
Once the evening comes, let your dog stay in his favourite place, be that in the kitchen, in your bedroom, or beside you in the living room. Then, make this place as protective as possible. Draw the curtains and blinds, whatever it takes to prevent light from flashes entering the room. Shut the windows, and put the television or stereo on loudly to mask any bangs. Plug in an Adaptil ® Diffuser or have him wear an Adaptil ® collar (mentioned above). Give him a carbohydrate-rich evening meal such as mashed potato, pasta or rice to make him feel sleepy (it works in dogs just as it does with us!). Leave him with chew and toys in case chewing/playing with these helps to keep him calm.
If he wants to hide behind the sofa, let him, but whatever you do don’t give him special attention, which could reinforce his fear. Also do not get angry with him for getting stressed – this will only make him worse, and it is not his fault! Reward him when he is calm with attention, games and treats. Make sure you and anyone else in the house does not react to any of the fireworks and appear happy and relaxed.
If your dog is still scared, it might be worth trying earplugs. Pet earplugs are available from pet shops or online. In an emergency you could make your own from damp wrung-out cotton wool but be very careful not to push them too deep to avoid damaging the sensitive ear canal.
Vets try not to sedate dogs if at all possible, but if despite all your efforts your dog is still afraid, sometimes drugs are necessary. Make sure you book an appointment with your vet well in advance, as he is likely to be busy on call on bonfire night, and you want to avoid an out of hours fee! Your vet will need to examine your dog and review his medical history to be sure there are no health reasons meaning sedative drugs would be unsafe. Most veterinary behaviourists now prefer drugs like diazepam, which actually calms your dog down, as opposed to acepromazine (ACP), which is thought simply to mask your dog’s fearfulness.
If your dog has a stressful fireworks season this year, make sure you put in more preparation next year to prevent it happening again. If the advice above does not work, your vet or vet nurse should be able to recommend a good behaviourist you can see locally for more individual behavioural advice.
Information extracted from Pet Webinars Newsletter Issue 9 – Anthony Chadwick
Pet Webinars 4th Floor, 3TC House, 16 Crosby Road North, Liverpool, Liverpool L22 0NY United Kingdom +44 1513 240580, http://petwebinars.co.uk/
The Yellow Dog Project was created to bring awareness to dogs who need space while training, recovering from surgery, or being rehabilitated.
Yellow Dog - Some dogs need space
If you see a dog with a YELLOW ribbon, bandanna or similar on the leash or on the dog, this is a dog which needs some space. Please, do not approach this dog or its people with your dog. They are indicating that their dog cannot be close to other dogs. How close is too close? Only the dog or his people know, so maintain distance and give them time to move out of your way.
There are many reasons why a dog may need space:
Maybe it has health issues
It may be a rescue dog being rehabilitated. The world can be a very scary place for these dogs.
It may have had a bad experience with another dog or is just not like the kind of friendly dogs which always want to say “Hi!”
A bitch may be in heat
The dog may be in training
It may be very old and arthritic
It may be very nervous or shy and other dogs cause it stress
In short, a yellow marker on a dog means it needs some space.
Those of us who own these dogs appreciate your help and respect.
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