Monday, 31 October 2011

Fireworks!

It's that time of year again when everyone seems to set off fireworks.  No longer confined to November 5th, firework parties tend to happen most weekends from the clocks changing until after New Year.

Loud screeches, pretty bright lights, almighty bangs, an enjoyable night for all, or so you’d think?  

It's no fun if you have a dog who reacts to the noise, wether that is by barking or by hiding under the bed.  But there are ways to help.


More dogs than you’d think suffer from an enormous amount of stress this time of year, normally due to a learned fear. Some behaviors that may be seen are:

  • Barking incessantly,
  • Hiding under chairs and tables
  • Shaking and trembling
  • Pawing at their owner for reassurance
  • Escaping

Unfortunately as humans it is instinctive to want to reassure and comfort our loved ones when they are distressed and through speech and affection we are able to do just that. However in the dog world it doesn’t quite work that way. When a dog receives a cuddle or a stroke they normally perceive it as a
reward and whenever you reward a dog for a behaviour you are increasing the likelihood of them displaying that behaviour again in the future. So as natural as it is for us to do, if we reassure our dogs when they are scared we are actually rewarding them, and making their fear worse. So please don’t sit
and cuddle your puppy on the sofa for two hours through the duration of the fireworks. Your puppy’s first experience can dictate how they cope with fireworks in future years so it is vital you get it right first time around.

On the other hand if your dog has a true phobia studies have shown that no amount of fuss and cuddles will make any difference, you know your dog better than anyone so if he's really reactive and you both feel more secure then a bit of a cuddle will do no harm.

What to do?
Your reaction is the most important.

Here are some pointers to make sure your puppy’s first experience of fireworks is a good one and to help prevent them from developing fear.
Ignore any signs of fear!

Act as you would on any other evening. If you are acting differently it will add to any stress; pull the curtains and put the T.V. on. Give your puppy something positive to do e.g. play a game, do some training with tasty titbits, or fill an interactive toy such as a Kong.

If your puppy or older dog isn't showing any signs of fear you may find he will enjoy having the curtains open and watching the pretty lights with you.  Especially if you "Ooooh" and "ahhhh" and be excited about it all, giving the dog plenty of treats along the way.

However if you know your dog already suffers from a fear of fireworks here are some hints and tips to make bonfire night go smoothly:

  • Close the curtains, leave lights and TV or radio on, this will mask the flashes and reduce the noise of the bangs.
  • If your dog wants to hide under the bed or table, the best thing to is to let it.  But if you can make a den for the dog either in a cosy corner where he likes to lie or by covering his crate if he’s crate trained.  Put some toys and blankets in this safe place, use a Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) diffuser or collar that you can get from your vet or pet shop.  Give your dog a filled interactive toy such as a Kong. DAP is a synthetic version of a natural pheromone that helps to calm an anxious dog. You may want to talk to your vet about Zyklene which is a natural calmitive in tablet form.
  • Give your dog plenty of time in the daylight to go to the toilet, if you know your dog is frightened of fireworks put him on a lead, even in the garden. 
  • Avoid leaving your dog alone during the evening, as he will feel safer with you around. 
  • Don’t shut him in anywhere, leave the interior doors open so your dog can escape to a place where he feels safer, but make sure the windows and doors to outside are secured.

In the run up to Bonfire Night you can use recordings of firework noises to get your dog used to the sound; start playing the recording on a low volume, building the volume as your dog gets used to it.  This is an ongoing exercise and can take a period of months to work successfully but has been shown to work in the majority of cases when used with DAP.

Avoid the use of sedatives as your dog may still feel afraid but be unable to react, some sedatives can also wear off to quickly or last to long so your dog will be zonked out for days.

Remember that fireworks are not just limited to one night, be prepared through the autumn and winter seasons for fireworks at anytime.  By law your dog must have a collar with your contact details on when in a public place.  Make sure your dog is wearing his collar at all times in case he takes fright and escapes.  It is also a good idea to have your dog microchipped that way he can be identified if he looses his collar or ID.

Above all remain calm and act normally, your dog will be looking to your for guidance and if he sees you panicking he may think there is something to panic about. 

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