Chances are that if you’re a dog-lover like me (which you clearly are, if you’re reading this…), you hate this time of year. While everyone is enjoying toffee apples and sparklers and anticipating Christmas and New Year parties, I’m sat at home like Scrooge, cursing and muttering the dreaded ‘F’ word. Fireworks.
According to the Kennel Club, at least 40% of the UK’s dog population is adversely affected by fireworks. And, with Bonfire Night, Diwali, Christmas AND New Year celebrations packed into a few short months… while we celebrate, our furry friends really do have a ‘ruff’ time.
Reactivity to fireworks is very much a personal thing for a dog – it may be your dog isn’t bothered by them… or, it may be all you see of your dog after the Hallowe’en decorations come down is a blur as they disappear to hide under the bed. However your dog is, it’s important to have some tools in your training belt to know how to help them get through the season of the ‘F-Word’.
1. Walkies workarounds – plan your dog's walks and loo trips around peak firework times.
Good planning is the easiest defence, so try to take your dog out for a good walk before dark and plan their final outside toilet trip for after fireworks have stopped (which by law in England is 11pm, but is extended to 12 midnight on November 5th). If you have the time, introduce these little changes over a few days to allow your dog to get used to them – sudden routine alterations may upset your dog and make them more anxious.
2. What fireworks? Shut out the noise as much as possible
It may sound obvious but shutting out the bright lights of fireworks by closing curtains and masking the bangs by keeping the TV or radio on really does help. Some people even find that playing classical music has a calming effect on their dogs, or alternatively, something with an h4 bass can help cover the firework noise, provided it’s played at a volume your dog is comfortable with.
3. Hide... but no seek - provide your dog with a safe place
Create a ‘safe place’ inside your home for your dog to hide, should they want to. If your dog has a crate, cover it with a blanket and leave it open (as shutting it can stress them further). Alternatively, a comfy bed under a table draped with a blanket is otherwise an excellent retreat. Let your dog decide where they want to be and certainly don’t punish them or insist on removing them (unless they are somewhere where they can cause themselves harm).
4. Be cool, man. Be cool. Changing your behaviour may make your dog more anxious
Act casual! Dogs are highly perceptive and will notice if you’re behaving differently. However your dog responds to fireworks, try not to make a big thing of it. Anxiously following your dog around or being overly affectionate may actually cause them to feel MORE nervous. By all means still reassure your pet, for example by playing with their favourite toy perhaps, but try to behave as normally as possible.
5. When the chips are down... Make sure your dog's details are up to date in case of escapes
Make sure your dog’s microchip information is up to date in case the worse should happen and they escape your control when spooked by firework noises. Similarly, make sure your details are up to date on their collar’s identity tag or badge.
6. Not only Scouts are prepared... start sound training with your dog now to make next year easier
Finally, plan for the long term. It’s never too late – or early – to start training your dog to cope with the noise of Fireworks… through a gradual process of ‘desensitisation’. The Dogs Trust have firework sound files which can be downloaded for free via Soundcloud (https://soundcloud.com/dogstrust/sets/sound-therapy-sounds-scary) – starting with the volume VERY low, you gradually increase it over a period of time (i.e. days and weeks, not hours!) so that your dog gradually becomes accustomed to the sound. Always make sure your dog remains calm and content – if your dog shows any signs of distress, go back a step and turn the volume lower again. Perhaps consider doing this while they enjoy a stuffed Kong toy or chew treat in their crate or bed, which will help to build positive associations with the sounds at the same time.
Of course, always consult your vet if you’re worried about your dog’s health – they may be able to advise on appropriate ‘plug-in’ products that contain ‘dog appeasing pheromones’ that can help calm your dog, or may recommend calming medication. Similarly, if you’re worried that your dog is overly affected by noise and exhibits signs of noise phobias, do get in touch as your dog may benefit from a behaviourist consultation. However, regardless of how your dog responds to the magical menace that is firework season, it’s important to approach things calmly, not rush your dog, and give them the space and support they need. In fact, follow THEIR ‘lead’ for this one! (Sorry again….)