Remember, Remember Your Dog This November

With Halloween and Bonfire Night fast approaching many dog owners will be dreading the forthcoming few months. Having seen first hand how terrified many dogs are of Fireworks I have put together some top tips for helping your canine companion to cope.

All species have their own version of fear of the unknown and we are all pre-programmed to be afraid of anything not familiar in our environment. So being fearful of fireworks is completely normal dog behaviour. Dogs are not only fearful of the noise but also the flashing lights, the smell of the fireworks and the vibrations caused by them. When a dog is scared they have three ways to deal with fear in normal circumstances, freeze, flight or fight. When they freeze having heard a firework they have no way of knowing if it will happen again so this does not reduce their anxiety, they are usually at home (or most definitely should be on Bonfire Night) and so have no where to run to and there is nothing for them to fight. This is why so many of our canine companions suffer from this fear. Their coping mechanisms can't help them predict or control the possibility of the fireworks going off again and again.

How can we help reduce the anxiety?

At least a month before (start now) start to plan how you will alleviate the stress these noisy, flashing lights cause.

  • Start using a homeopathic supplement to aid calmness, I have found Dorwest Scullcap and Valerian particularly effective but there are many homeopathic calming aids.
  •  There are prescription drugs your vet can recommend however there have been recent studies to suggest that although outwardly the dog doesn't exhibit stress signals they have still had dramatically increased cortisol levels, suggesting that they are still very anxious.
  • Make a safe place for your dog, use their crate or put their bed under a table or your bed, where they can go to feel safe, make sure your dog can stand up, turn around and has enough space to stretch out. Cover all sides except the entrance with fabric to help it feel more enclosed and help keep some sound out, put extra cushions under their bed to help muffle the vibrations caused and keep curtains or blinds closed to avoid letting the flashing light in. Feed your dog in there for the next few weeks and give special treats in there too to build up happy safe associations. Make sure it is their choice to go in there, NEVER force them. 
  • Adaptil have Dog Appeasing Pheromone plugins, collars and spray which helps to reduce the effects of anxiety.
  • Use the calming music designed for dogs from Through A Dogs Ear, available on Spotify or to buy through Amazon. Introduce it during the evenings prior to the fireworks starting, build up calm associations with it. 

On Fireworks night

  • Make sure your dog has had lots of physical exercise early in the day.
  • Play scent search games with them in the house before the fireworks start, to tire them out mentally, playing find their favourite toy or find a piece of food is great.
  • Put the Through A Dog's Ear music on prior to the fireworks starting.
  • Give your dog a bone, Stag bar or stuffed Kong Quest Toy in their crate or bed to encourage your dog to get stuck in to chewing an item, thus releasing serotonin, helping to relieve stress, in their safe place.
  • If your dog remains calm play more games with them, keeping their mind active and helping them focus on alternate things to relieve stress.
  • Make sure they have lots of fresh water as stressed dogs pant more and get very thirsty.
  • If your dog comes to you for reassurance GIVE IT TO THEM, you can't reinforce a fear by giving affection, however you can encourage relaxation by using TTouch ear slides.
  • Take your dog out to the toilet on lead just in case a firework goes off to make sure they don't bolt, even small dogs can clear 6ft fences when scared. .

Don't EVER take a dog to a fireworks display, it is not a way to make them get over their fear, it is a sure fire way to traumatise them!