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 not only survive but also ways to help them eventually relax.
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 (flight) 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. Examples of stress signals are below and the percentage of dogs who suffer from each, images from Zoetisus.
REMEMBER, Remember your dog this November
How can we help reduce the anxiety for our dogs in firework season?
At least a month before (start now) start to plan how you will alleviate the stress these noisy, flashing lights cause. Consider all the aspects that could be causing your dog to be fearful of them.
- Introduce Through a Dog’s Ear music for at least two weeks when your dog is at home, settled and calm. You can give your dog a chew (such as an antler, hoof, horn or coffeewood) then put the music on so that you can ensure calmness. The music needs to be paired with calm feelings so that in a further two weeks you can use it to help settle your dog if they are slightly aroused or unsettled. Snuffle mats can be great as can K9 Connectables which you can freeze, we will cover more about scent with the snuffle mats and taste with the K9 Connectables in later sections.
- Build a safe place or den.
- Check where local displays are taking place and ask you neighbours if they intend to hold their own so you can prepare accordingly.
- Sound proof at least one room of your home and start using it as the safe place to have calming sounds and settling exercises on regularly not just on the nights when fireworks are being set off. You can consider feeding 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.
- Be a dog detective and see whether touch is soothing and calming to your dog.
- Touch needs to be consensual, use the five second rule as a way of determining if your dog chooses to move in to your touch. Stroke your dog for no more than 5 seconds, remove your hands and let your dog re-engage if they want to. If they don’t let them have some space and wait for them to instigate the touch again at a later time.
- Always keep a close eye on body language.
- Try different TTouches and find a local practitioner here
- TTouch Body wraps or Thundershirts can help some dogs settle more and feel more aware of their body, however always make sure to start slowly, let your dog get used to the smell and touch of these items before putting them on them and only put them on for short periods to start with. Keep a close eye on your dog’s body language to gage if they are calm and comfortable.
- Dog’s smell in parts per trillion and 12% of what they breathe in is processed in their olfactory. Dogs have 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about six million in us. And the part of a dog’s brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is, proportionally speaking, 40 times greater than ours. This is why the smell of fireworks play a big part in the fear many dogs feel.
- You can use their acute sense of smell to help them settle by going for walks in which you encourage sniffing during daylight hours, using snuffle mats or wooly mats (found here) and by playing lots more scent based games in your home.
- Two great books for inspiration are The Canine Kingdom of Scent and Detector Dog. Clock on each to find them on Amazon.
- Adaptil – Pheromone support
Pheromones are natural chemical ‘signals’, which are secreted by animals to communicate different types of messages to themselves or others. One pheromone dog’s use is called the ‘dog appeasing pheromone’ that a mother produces to reassure her puppies.
This pheromone has suggested reassure puppies and adult dogs in challenging situations such as fireworks night. ADAPTIL® is a synthetic copy of this pheromone. I would always suggest using the spray on to some bedding first, to see if your dog orientates towards it or avoids it, prior to putting a collar on or a diffuser where your dog won’t be able to get away from the smell.
- Pet Remedy – Working with your pet’s own natural calming mechanisms by mimicking GABA (gamma amino butyric acid) which is a natural calming agent present in all mammals, reptiles, and birds.
“So when a pet becomes stressed or anxious the Pet Remedy actives help trick red-up nerve cells into thinking they are getting a message from the brain to calm. This is why it starts to help instantly.” Explained by Dr. Flo Watt MRCPsych (Consultant Psychiatrist) The formulation is predominantly Valerian oil based (from Eastern Europe), with small inclusions of Vetiver (from Indonesia), Sweet Basil, (from Europe), and Clary Sage (from France) essential oils. Many Valerian preparations are too potent and can sedate rather than calm. Pet Remedy is low concentration and the diffuser delivers a constant slow release, which is very kind and gentle in its effect on the metabolism. Likewise for the calming sprays and wipes which are water based.
- Zoopharacognosy – Applied Zoopharmacognosy enables self-medicative behaviour in domesticated or captive animals by offering plant extracts that would contain the same, or similar constituents to those found in an animal’s natural environment.
The practice encourages and allows an animal to guide its own health, since unlike their wild counterparts, captive and domesticated animals rarely have the opportunity to forage on medical plants. The extracts offered include a variety of essential oils, absolutes, plant extracts, macerated oils, tubers, clays, algae, seaweeds and minerals. Once the animal has selected its remedy, it will then guide the session by inhaling it, taking it orally, or by rubbing a part of its body into it. Click here for the book available on amazon newly updated and I believe the kindle one is the best one as they upload updates too.
- You can consider using Rescue Remedy for pets can be a really great help. It contains five flower essences: Rock Rose to alleviate terror and panic, Impatiens to mollify irritation and impatience, Clematisto combat inattentiveness, Star of Bethlehem to ease shock, and Cherry Plum to calm irrational thoughts. You can either put 4 drops, 4 times a day on a treat or 16 drops in a bowl of water, please supply an extra blowl without it in too in case they do not want it.
- You can also consider Tea. There are a number of teas you can use, however please always give fresh water as well as the tea to let your dog choose whether they drink it or not. Camomile, Valerian or Woof Brews Anxiety teas are all useful.
- Valerian there are some preparations made specifically for dogs. In addition to its anti-anxiety properties, Valerian can be used to treat hyperactivity, restlessness, insomnia, and other stress and anxiety conditions. You should always be careful with the dosage when using valerian as a treatment. Also, it can have the opposite effect in some dogs (and humans) when it’s used as a calming agent and a sedative. Some dogs (and humans) actually experience valerian as a stimulant
- Chamomile delivers reliable antispasmodic, carminative, and mild sedative effects to the digestive system, making it useful in cases of indigestion, gas, or vomiting. I find the tea or tincture especially effective when used in dogs who are prone to stomach upset during episodes of hyper-excitability. The first time you give your dog chamomile, go slowly, especially if your pet has shown allergic tendencies to other substances in the past , chamomile is not safe to give to cats Chamomile is a relatively safe treatment option for dogs, but there are some uterine concerns. If your dog is pregnant, you should limit use of chamomile to its tea form. Tinctures are more potent and should be avoided in those instances, as chamomile can cause constriction of the uterus tissues.
- Woof and Brew Calming tea Ingredients: Rose petals, Lavender, Devils Claw, Orange Flowers, Skullcap, Astragalus & Lime Flower.
- Calming Treats – Pet Naturals of Vermont Calming, Pooch and Mutt Calm and Relaxed or Complete Calm are all treats available in the UK which contain active ingredients which promote calmness.
- There are also homeopathic supplements to aid calmness, such as Kalmaid, Calmex or Nutricalm, all of these have the active ingredients of L-Tryptophan and L-Theanine in them. Please always check with your vet first. I have also found Dorwest Scullcap and Valerian particularly effective but there are many homeopathic calming aids.
- Pharmacology – Until recently, there were no drugs specifically licenced for the treatment of noise phobias in dogs. This changed with the launch of an oromucosal dexmedetomidine gel in 2016 called Sileo. The gel is applied inside the dog’s cheek and relieves anxiety without any sedating effect. It is ideally given half an hour before fireworks start, but works well even if the dog is already showing signs of fear and can be repeated after 2 hours. Because of UK prescribing laws, vets are now being encouraged to suggest this gel as a first-line treatment for occasional noisy events but it is not suitable for all dogs so always check with your vet and ask whether it would be suitable and why. Other medications used for fear of fireworks include benzodiazepines such as diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax). These work best if given before the dog becomes anxious, and should be tried out before they are needed as a few dogs show a paradoxical excitement reaction. Duration of action varies with the different drugs, but there is also large variation between dogs. Benzodiazepines may inhibit learning, making a dog less likely to remember the experience. Sadly there are still some vets who suggest the use of ACP and there have been recent studies which found 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, so under no circumstances agree to administering ACP.
- Keep curtains or blinds closed to avoid letting flashing light in.
- Bare in mind that dogs see in Blues and Yellows and are 5 times more sensitive to light, so keeping consistent light is important.
- Choose toys which are predominantly blue or yellow
- Film the room you intend to have as the safe place for your dog in slow motion to see if the lighting flickers or strobes. There are many halogen and florescent bulbs which flicker, so you may want to try using a low lit lamp to help bring light without a flicker to the room
- Turn the lights on before dusk.
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, antler, stuffed hoof or K9 Connectable in their crate or safe place to encourage your dog to get stuck into chewing an item, thus releasing dopamine, serotonin, and possible oxytocin (all happy hormones) helping to relieve stress, in their safe place.
- If your dog remains calm and seems a little alert you could 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 and other touches.
- 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.
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If your dog suffers from sound aversion get in touch to organise a behavioural consultation with us so that we can design a personalised plan for you and your dog. Every dog is an individual and as such it is important to make sure you are under the support and guidance of a qualified and certified behaviourist. At Believe In Magic we are proud to have TWO qualified behaviourists here to help you and your dog. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to book a consultation.
Written by Eryn Martyn-Godfrey © May 2012 – Updated May 2016 & September 2017