The countdown begins to one of the least popular events in the calendar for many dog owners. Karen Bush advises.
Even if you’ve successfully helped your dog to overcome a fear of fireworks, it’s still important to plan for the night to ensure there are no setbacks. If you’ve not yet had time to set up or complete a long-term programme, there’s still plenty you can do to help him cope.
- Keep water bowls topped up — anxious dogs pant more so may be thirstier.
- Feed earlier than usual; your dog may be too worried to eat once the noises start.
- Long-lasting chewy treats or a tightly stuff ed Kong may help distract him; chewing is also a good stress-buster.
- Take your main walk before dusk.
- Better safe than sorry; it won’t harm your dog if he misses a few walks at this time of year.
- Take your dog out to toilet before dusk. Don’t go further than necessary, and even in your garden, keep him on a lead.
- Wait until well after the last bangs before a final bedtime toilet break.
- If he doesn’t want to go out, or there are still a few sporadic bangs, get up earlier next morning to take him out.
MASKING THE NOISE
- Draw all the curtains.
- Switch on the radio or TV before you expect any fi reworks to start. Turn up the volume enough to disguise some of the external noise, but not so loud it’s uncomfortable or stressful in its own right.
- Musical selections compiled especially for dogs are available online.
- White noise can also help mask external sounds; download or listen online to recordings or buy a portable white noise machine.
- If your dog wants to pace around, allow him to do so.
- If he prefers hiding away that’s fi ne too. Don’t force him to leave his ‘safe’ place.
- Create a den where he can feel secure. If using a crate, leave the door open so he can come and go as he chooses and doesn’t feel trapped.
- Some dogs find a pile of blankets and duvets to burrow under more comforting.
- Shut all external doors and windows.
- Only shut your dog away from you in another room very briefly if you have to open the front door to a caller.
- If you have a cat or dog flap, lock it securely.
- Stay at home; don’t leave your dog on his own.
- Try to be relaxed and behave normally.
- Don’t draw attention to what is happening outside by holding your breath or looking in the direction of the noise.
- Offer comfort and reassurance to your dog if he wants it, but interact in a calm way; Tellington TTouches can be a great way of doing this. Use games or some reward-based training as a distraction if your dog enjoys these activities.
- Dim the lights; this encourages melatonin production, which induces restfulness and sleep.
- Make changes in routine (such as exercise and mealtimes) gradual. Some dogs may find sudden variations stressful.
A LITTLE EXTRA HELP
- There are many calming products you can try. These contain ingredients such as B vitamins, magnesium, tryptophan, a protein found in cow’s milk called casein, and herbs such as camomile and valerian. Some are supplements added to meals, others are pills or liquid drops that can be given on the night. For best effect some need to be given a few days in advance. Always read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully as some may be inappropriate if your dog has certain health issues or is taking particular medications; check with your vet first.
- Rescue Remedy is another great remedy in times of stress. In addition to the well-known Bach products, other flower remedies are also available, some of which have been blended to help specifically with firework fears.
- Plugging in a pheromone diff user may help your dog to feel safe and secure. These diff users emit a synthetic copy of natural canine pheromones, and you can reinforce the effect by applying a pheromone spray to your dog’s den or bed.
- Anxiety vests and body wraps can also provide a ‘portable hug’, which many dogs find reassuring and calming.