Pets with Problems

Dogs and Fireworks

Holiday Fireworks and Your Dog

As the year winds down, I am often contacted by pet owners about how to help keep their dogs and cats calm during fireworks displays. Beginning in early November with Guy Fawkes Day leading all the way up to New Year’s Eve, the sound explosions can often terrify pets. This fear creates stress in animals, which of course can lead to much larger problems, both behavioural and health wise. Separation anxiety in dogs is often linked to noise phobia so to resolve one issue you also have to resolve the other.

Plan Ahead to Reduce Stress

It’s important to know what is going on in the area where you live and when, so you can better prepare. Short of simply leaving the area, which is often not possible, there are other steps you can take to help your dog cope with the loud noises that are to come. There are some steps you can take to desensitise your dog ahead of the holiday season, which we will cover shortly. This is incredibly important as long term phobias can develop with regard to noise, which can effect your pet for their entire lives. In fact, it is said that 93% of dogs with a noise phobia had this issue originate from either fireworks or thunder. The longer a phobia goes untreated without behaviour modification, the harder it is to overcome.
Dog and Fireworks

One Event Can Trigger Behavioural Issues

It truly is sad, but a singular event can create long lasting trauma in our dogs. Noise phobia can become engrained and can literally render a dog incapable of functioning normally during and following a fireworks event or storm. Such behaviours look like panic, trying to escape the room or even your home itself, digging or scratching, whining, barking, trying to find a safe place in an attempt to get coverby hiding behind or under furniture.
Other behaviours can include pacing as well as your dog completely ignoring your presence. You should also look for physical symptoms such as panting, sweating, dilated pupils, lack of appetite, or excessive trembling. All of these symptoms key you in on the huge amount of stress your dog is feeling at that moment. The problem with fireworks or storms is that there is nowhere the dog can go to get away – the sounds surround him wherever he goes – there is no escape. It is also not only the noise but also the smell, the vibrations and the change in electrical atmosphere that can be frightening.
Dogs and Fireworks

A Silver Lining

By being prepared you can help your dog cope with these events so that your dog.  have a better chance of being less stressed and if set to work months in advance you can often condition your dog to these sounds so that he is better able to cope.  Of course, each dog is different so you need to tailor your training to them individually.

Dogs and Fireworks

Preparing for an Event

There is a lot you can do to help your dog during an event. If you know there are going to be fireworks or a thunderstorm coming make sure that you take him for a long walk whilst it is safe to do so; give him a meal filled with carbohydrates such as pasta (this has a calming effect). If your dog is crate trained then make sure the crate is against an inside wall, put thick carpet underneath to stop vibrations and cover it with a very thick duvet – do NOT close the door but make sure he can get in and out himself. If he is not crate trained create a safe space (under a table) by putting his bed in there with some water and drape the table to the floor with thick duvets to deaden the sound. During a storm or fireworks display turn on a white noise machine or turn the radio up to deaden the sound – having different sounds in different rooms helps mix up the noise and cover up loud bangs. If you have medication make sure you give it in plenty of time and top it up as necessary as instructed by your vet. During an event don’t make a fuss – leave your dog alone but if he comes over for comfort DON’T ignore him either – he needs you to help him.

Noise Conditioning

The following is just an overview of how to help condition your dog to sounds. If your dog has a serious phobia I suggest that you call in the services of a qualified behaviourist to help you as working in the wrong way can make things worse. To help begin the conditioning process for your dog start by working to help your dog be less frightened by the sound of fireworks and thunder. You will need to start this many months in advance as it is a slow process. The most effective way to do this is to expose them gradually to the sound. Of course, I am not suggesting you use real fireworks for this exercise, but instead use audio recordings. You can download many sound effects from various sources on the internet and the Dogs Trust has some great sound effects and advice on their website https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/help-advice/dog-behaviour-health/sound-therapy-for-pets . It is important to start at very low volumes and increase the sound very slowly over time. During this process, it is important to pay close attention to your dog’s behavior, body language and actions. If at any time you feel your dog is starting to become anxious STOP the exercise. Remember this is conditioning, which means it will take time and patience to accomplish the desired results.

The desensitisation process should be done in for no more than about 5 minutes in any session. Play the noise softly in the background, whilst you play with your dog or give him treats – whatever you do it really has to be something he enjoys – something that will ‘rock his boat’ . Gradually, over time, increase the volume just a little at a time but only increase when your dog is calm and relaxed at the point you are working on.

Light Conditioning

Light can also be associated with firework phobias so even if there is no noise the dog may still associate a light (airplane going overhead at night) with a scary event. Light conditioning is approached in the same manner as sound condition is. By exposing your dog to sudden flashes of light, you can create a similar environment to that of fireworks. Over time, combine the sound and light exposure for the best results. As a note, keep in mind that even if your dog does well during this desensitisation process, they still may react differently during an actual fireworks display or thunderstorm so you will still have to make sure that they feel safe.
Other Possible Remedies

There are several other “remedies” on the market such as Thundershirts, DAP Collars, and herbal medicines. Personally, I have found these options to be far less effective, if at all, when stressful situations, like dos and fireworks, may occur. If your dog is very nervous around these noises then I suggest you consult with your vet well in advance to determine if there is a medication that can help your dog.

Dogs and Fireworks - Contact Me For Help

If your dog is noise phobic and also struggles with separation anxiety please contact me for help and together we can develop a programme to help treat both conditions.

Please, contact me with any questions you have.  

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