Firework season is here! This can be a very unsettling time for our pets, especially our dogs. Although it may now be a little too late this year to try and improve serious cases of firework and noise phobias. There are still many things we can do to help our dogs cope with this difficult time.
Walking in daylight hours can help prevent your dog being caught unawares and startled whilst out on a walk. Many dogs that are very fearful of fireworks and loud sudden noises may bolt if off lead in reaction to fireworks. For this reason, it may be a good idea to keep your dog on a lead or long line and correctly fitting harness to prevent them from getting loose and running away.
Puzzle games such as Nina Ottoson toys as well as scent work can also be a great way to exercise your dogs mind as well as body if you need to reduce their exercise. Scent work can also help dogs relax and calm down after periods of high arousal, frustration or anxiety.
Body wraps or “Thundershirts” can be helpful for anxious dogs by providing a sense of comfort. These are close fitting and work on the principle of compression or swaddling, providing a similar effect that we might experience when wrapped up in a duvet in bed!
Like all new things these should be introduced gradually and a positive association must be created to ensure your dog enjoys wearing them and that they don’t add to their anxiety.
Another effective alternative therapy are DAP collars. These work by being warmed and activated by the dog’s body heat and release a calming pheromone which helps to relieve stress and anxiety in dogs. They can be used throughout the firework season and last for a number of weeks.
Many fearful dogs like the option of retreating to a “safe” place, for many dogs this may be their bed or crate and for others this may be in a location close to their owners such as behind or next to a sofa. It is important to allow your dog access to places such as these so that they can take refuge if they feel the need to. Many dogs will also appreciate you making these places more cosy such as covering crates with a blanket or making a make shift tent for your dog to take refuge in. It can also be useful to close your curtains so that your dog cannot see any flashes or fireworks and to lessen the noise.
You can also try and cover up the noise of fireworks by turning up the volume on your television or radio. This can be very helpful in preventing your dog hearing the fireworks and may help you to distract them with other things.
As mentioned previously interactive toys as well as stuffed Kongs, Snuffle Mats, Likitmats as well as encouraging your dog to search for treats around the house can also be used to distract your dog from what’s going on outside.
One thing that is important to remember is that you cannot make your dog’s fear of fireworks worse by comforting and supporting them through this period. As fear is an emotional response rather than a behaviour and is triggered and motivated by the fireworks rather than us providing comfort. Therefore, we cannot make this worse by allowing them to seek comfort from us and talking to them etc.
Thomas Bysouth BSc (CBT)