A week on Sunday is Bonfire Night and you can bet there’ll be plenty of bangs, whizzes and crashes rending the skies, from this weekend onwards. This is the time of year when thousands of our household pets will be cowering in terror or running away in fear from all these noises and lights that they just don’t understand.
Whilst you are gazing with awe and shrieking with delight at the flashes and crashes of pyrotechnics above you, your dog may be thinking his world is about to end, especially if he is left home alone.
This year, give some thought in advance on how to help your pet deal with the trauma of fireworks on November the 5th.
You can try a desensitisation program to help to alleviate your dog’s fears. This will also help him if he’s afraid of thunderstorms or other loud noises.
Introduce him gradually to the sounds he doesn’t like, by playing them in a quiet, controlled
the sounds. It may be too late to expect a program like this to work for this year, but it’s as good
a time as any to start to help your dog feel less afraid of loud noises and next year he could face
bonfire night with complete calm!
You can buy CDs which are specially designed to offer the sorts of sounds to use or you could
create your own recording relatively simply.
Make sure all windows and doors are locked, all of which should have curtains closed where possible. A frightened pet often tries to run away from the noises it doesn’t understand. In October and November last year, 682 pets were harmed by fireworks and many more were lost, possibly in their panic to escape their fears.
If you have pets other than dogs, ensure that they too are safely inside a secure familiar place as far away from the noises and lights as possible.
If you leave your dog at home alone on bonfire night, think about where he will be sleeping in relation to any fireworks noises. Put him in the middle of your home away from windows and doors, better still in a specially prepared warm, cosy den full of blankets to help him feel secure. If you decide to do this, get him used to his new bed a few days in advance, as you want things to be as calm and normal as possible on bonfire night itself.
Ensure he has plenty of clean, fresh water to drink. An anxious dog can be thirstier than a calm one.
Be calm and collected yourself. Your dog will pick up any anxiety from you and this will make his reaction worse. Contrary to what you might think, if he starts to become frightened do not comfort him but continue behaving as if nothing had happened. If you comfort him you are confirming to him that he is right to be anxious, and also your calmness should help him to recognise that there is nothing to fear. Congratulate him for calm behaviour only. If he disappears behind a cupboard before you have a chance to ensconce him in his lovingly prepared den, then let him stay there because hauling him out will only increase his fear.
Make sure he’s had a really good walk before the evening begins. If he’s tired he’s much more likely to drop off to sleep and not concern himself with loud noises.
Some dogs relax better if offered a meal with a higher than normal percentage of carbohydrate in it, such as brown rice, which will line the stomach and help him to feel full and comfortable.
Distract your dog with games and exercises when you expect the fireworks to begin. Keeping him busy will help to divert his attention from what’s going on outside.
Playing pleasant and relaxing music may assist in calming the atmosphere.
If you plan to have fireworks at home yourself, do consider your neighbours’ pets and let them know in advance. Better still, go to a public display which should be further away from your pet and probably much better in quality!
There are various products available on the market to assist in calming fearful pets and the following are three which I’ve found very useful in different situations.
D.A.P. stands for Dog Appeasing Pheromone and is a synthetic spray which mimics a bitch’s pheromone scent used to calm her puppies. It’s available in a spray or plug-in diffuser and ideally should be used 24 hours a day for a couple of weeks before any stressful event occurs and continuing for a week afterwards. Always check the manufacturer’s instructions.
Homeopathic remedies such as Australian Bush Flower Essences and Bach Flower Remedies can be effective in calming your dog. Starting a few days in advance, put a few drops of the remedy in his drinking water according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Tellington TTouch Therapy is based on traditional Chinese medicine and advocates gentle exercise and massage to alleviate stress, fear, tension and confusion. The results of this therapy can be astonishing and one of the recognised treatments for stress is a body wrap. The theory is that the gentle and consistent pressure of the wrap around the dog’s body has a calming effect on its behaviour and this does certainly seem to be the case with some dogs. These ‘wraps’ and other equivalent products are freely available.
If you plan in advance and show your dog that bonfire night can be like any other day in your calendar, then hopefully both you and your dog can enjoy the evening with no problems.