With Bonfire Night just around the corner we asked Carol Baby, of Forever Hounds Trust’s Behaviour Support Team, to share her fireworks advice for dog owners.
Many dogs don’t mind fireworks noise at all and with these lucky dogs it is wise to be very matter of fact about the whole event. If you are constantly looking to see if the noise is affecting your dog and worrying that he/she might get upset you may unknowingly be giving him/her the signal that there is something to worry about and cause fear of firework noise to develop.
Sadly, many dogs do find fireworks scary. Obvious ways to help them are by cutting out the sound and sight of the fireworks as much as possible by closing curtains and putting music or the TV on to cover the noise a bit, but dogs have much better hearing than us so don’t have it on so loud that it causes more fear. Frightened dogs often look for a safe place to hide and go into ‘shut-down mode’ – panting, quivering and unable to interact.
Please let them do this. It is their way of coping. If you try to move, pat, talk to, hold or comfort them you can make things worse because you are confirming their opinion that there is something to be scared of and also putting pressure on them to interact with you. The best thing you can do is to let them be while staying in the room with them. Just do something commonplace such as eat or watch TV. This way you are giving them the message that everything is fine and normal in spite of the noise outside.
If you know or suspect that your dog will be really terrified you can prepare by buying an Adaptil collar (available from vets or online) and putting it on your dog over the firework season. The Adaptil collar can really calm your dog by giving off an appeasing pheromone similar to that produced by a nursing bitch to calm her puppies. A collar lasts for about 6 weeks. There are also Adaptil plug-ins that you can use in the house to help your dog but I prefer the collars because they go everywhere with the dog. The collars cost around £13. You can also purchase Zylkene for dogs, which can also be very effective . If this isn’t enough you could discuss some stronger medication with your vet.
Make sure your dog always wears its collar with ID tags and it is wise to keep your dog on a lead all through the firework season, day and night. Sadly, there are many irresponsible people who let fireworks off during the day time in parks and I have heard of so many dogs running for home dodging through traffic. If you need to take your dog outside for a toilet visit on Bonfire Night, try to go before it starts and wait until it is all over. Remember to take them on a lead in case of a stray firework which could frighten them into running away.
There are CDs that you can buy to use throughout the year to gradually acclimatise your dog to increasingly loud bangs, so if your dog shows fear of fireworks this year you can start work after November preparing him/her for New Year’s eve and next year’s Bonfire Night with the use of the CD.