As we enter the darker nights, it’s time to think about getting your dog prepared for the delights of Bonfire night, Halloween and Diwali celebrations! Many, many dogs are worried about or just plain terrified by fireworks. They can be INCREDIBLY loud, and to puppies born after last November this can be a whole new scary thing to cope with. If your neighbourhood is anything like mine it can be like World War 2 is happening in next doors garden….
So – ACT NOW to help get through it with minimal distress to both your dog and you: here are my top tips!
1. Get the dog used to the sound of fireworks from NOW! Start today! Download or buy a CD of firework noises and play it a very low level in the house and in the car while the dog is doing something great – eating dinner, playing or just snoozing. In the beginning play it as quietly as you need to so the dog is not bothered by it. Do this EVERY DAY and gradually increase the volume over the weeks so that by the time we hit bonfire night it’s really loud – and the dog will be much less likely to react to the craziness going on outside. The Dogs Trust have a free download of noises here To work though you do have to play the sounds EVERY DAY!!
2. Don’t walk the dog after dark if there are fireworks going off or you think there might be some coming! Let the dog pee in the garden or take a really quick trip out when it’s quiet and DEFINITELY don’t let her off the lead – the last thing you want is for your dog to bolt!
3. Keep windows, doors, curtains and blinds shut. Reduce the space the dog has to roam in and make him a secure den underneath or in something where he feels comfortable. Get him used to this BEFORE bonfire night so it’s not just another new thing to deal with.
4. Leave the TV and/or radio on but not on the channel where they are showing the fireworks!
5. Consider trying a Thundershirt – these are meant to give a feeling of comfort to the dog by applying pressure. It works in some cases so maybe worth a go!
6. Halloween has yet another set of issues: the doorbell rings, Fido races to see who is here to visit him and is faced with a group of people in horrible masks, waving axes and goodness knows what! The dog may well bolt through the open door, run terrified into the house or bark and jump at the people – none of these are good outcomes! If you have kids of your own get the dog used to the craziness by letting him see masks and costumes before the Big Day – let him sniff and look at them before you put them on. Come to the door wearing it and let him see it’s you. If you don’t have kids but expect trick or treat visits either shut the dog away before answering the door, keep him on a lead so you can hold him safely when opening the door, or leave a bowl of sweets on the doorstep with a ‘please help yourself!’ notice and be prepared to refill it regularly! If your dog is only mildly worried you can ask the visiting kids to help with the training by asking them to throw treats for him on to the hall floor while they fill their booty bags with their own treats!
7. Don’t be afraid to offer the dog comfort if he or she is worried by what is happening, regardless of what they are scared of. Picking up a small dog, or cuddling a larger one will NOT make the fear worse. Keep your voice happy and upbeat though so the dog knows you are not worried too. Imagine if you were scared of spiders - being shouted at for screaming when one runs across your foot is not going to make you feel ANY better! A bit of sympathy, compassion and some efforts to take your mind of it just might. So - offer plenty of reassurance and comfort, see if the dog will take yummy treats or engage in a game he loves. This is NOT rewarding the fear, it’s helping to minimise the effects!
8. If all else fails, consider putting the dog in the car and going for a drive out into the countryside. Put the radio on to help drown out the sound as you pass through firework zones, and cover up the crate (if you have one) to minimise the effect of the lighting flashes – a nice quiet meal in a country pub will be a WHOLE lot more enjoyable for all of you!
9. Even if your dog is not apparently worried by fireworks etc PLEASE don’t take them to a display! It’s a potentially terrifying thing for even the most laid back dog, and certainly won’t ‘cure’ one who is worried by them.
10. As a complement to all of the above, it won’t do any harm, and may well help, to use a pheromone product such as a DAP diffuser, spray or collar to help your dog relax and feel less stressed. However, these products don’t necessarily work straight out of the box – the scent needs time to build up and release into the environment, so plug it in/ use it for a week or two before the main event to give it a fighting chance. Or, if your dog is really struggling, ask your vet for a product which will help them remain calm. Try to avoid straight up sedatives though as the dog can still be scared, and actually made worse by the stumbling and disorientating effect of the tablets.
If you start NOW and follow these top tips, hopefully we can all enjoy the celebrations and even look forward to the next batch at New Year!