The end of October and the beginning of November hail the approach of what is often the most stressful time of year for the dog owner Fireworks season.
Fireworks might be impressive and awe-inspiring to watch, but to your dog, they can be terrifying. Flashing lights, loud and unexpected bangs and nearby whizzing noises can cause even the calmest of canines to panic, and there can be few things more distressing for the caring dog owner than seeing their dog frightened, stressed or upset.
If you dread this time of year and are looking for ways to help minimise the effect of fireworks season on your dog, don’t despair- help is at hand. Read on for our top tips on how to keep fireworks-related anxiety in your dog to a minimum, and some suggestions for the best natural remedies and products to help prepare your dog for fireworks.
Long Term Solutions
When a dog becomes fearful of something that has never done him any harm, such as fireworks, this fear is called sensitization. The fear may seem irrational when the dog has known no immediate danger from the sounds; nonetheless, it is very real and incredibly powerful for the dog.
This type of fear can usually be avoided if the dog is subject to careful de-sensitization to the sounds from as early an age as possible. Many organisations play firework, thunder or gunshot sounds, via a recording, to pregnant mother dogs and continue to do so in the background after the puppy is born. When this is done the young dog accepts the sound as regular background noise that causes them no problems.
If a dog has not been carefully de-sensitized from puppyhood then it is still possible to carry out the process carefully and with a gentle introduction to the sounds.
De-sensitization to Fireworks
The idea with this kind of remedial behaviour modification is that the dog is only exposed to the sound at a level that he can handle. For instance, the recording can be played very quietly in the background whilst the dog is relaxing, playing or eating. This is successfully coupling the sound with a pleasurable experience alongside also keeping it quiet enough not to adversely affect the dog’s confidence or mood.
When the dog does not become anxious by the sound of the recording being played quietly in the background then you can work on turning the volume up. It is important to do this gradually if the dog notices the sound or his behaviour changes then you have turned it up too quickly.
This process can take weeks or even months, It's better not to commence with desensitization around the time that fireworks are everywhere; for the option to increase the sound gradually can easily be taken away if the neighbours have a bonfire.
As your worried dog gradually gets used to the sound being played in the background and you increase the volume, bit by bit, whilst making sure he stays completely relaxed you are preparing him for that nasty firework season, just as any behaviour modification expert would.
You can buy a desensitization CD or recording online and in some pet stores.
Short Term Solutions
If you find yourself caught out and fireworks season is beginning all of a sudden, you need something more immediate to help your dog cope with anxiety. A sound sensitive dog can continually drool, chew his own skin until he bleeds and can even bite his owner through fear. The poor dog has no idea that he is in no real danger and automatically wants to hide away from the noise.
It is very important that your dog has somewhere safe and comfortable to 'escape' to. Ideally, there should be somewhere comfy nearby which is underneath something, this will provide the perfect hiding spot. A crate with a blanket over it, or a table covered over with his bed underneath is fine. You may find that your dog gets under a chair or behind a sofa, if he does this then just leave him to it. The place that he goes is relieving his anxiety and the last thing you should do is try to interact with him or pull him out. Doing this opens you up to the risk of being bitten by a terrified and desperate dog.
Older Dogs and Fireworks
When a dog gets older he can become extremely sensitive to things that in his youth caused him few problems. A number of things can attribute to the fear that older dogs feel and because we can’t ask them, plus they can’t tell us, in a language that we both understand, we can only do our best to know our individual dog as he ages.
Loss of some senses can cause insecurity for the older dog. He may only be able to hear certain tones or pitches which can make him feel out of sorts. The dog generally sees the world with his nose, scent is his guide, yet all of the other senses are important too. Something as simple as developing cataracts and the associated cloudy vision can cause problems that make the older dog more vulnerable to environmental changes, such as an influx of loud fireworks.
Age related confusion is another reason that a dog may not be able to cope like he once did. Even the smallest amount of confusion caused by that ageing grey matter can make your dog feel odd. This can be staved off, to an extent, by keeping your pooch well exercised both mentally and physically but sometimes we just have to accept that our best friend is getting on in years.
You can comfort your dog and sit close to him if it benefits him. If he prefers to hide away don’t remove him from his hidey hole, this is where is safe place is. Maybe even add another blanket over the top of his hidey hole for that sense of extra security.
As well as trying some herbal remedies for dog anxiety linked below, you can also try turning up the radio a little - specifically on the classical music channel as dogs like that softer tone the best.
Our Top Tips and Natural Products
Here are some of our natural product suggestions and top tips that you can use alongside the solutions above or try them on their own at any time of year to reduce stress and anxiety that your dog may be experiencing. These are really helpful ideas that have successfully worked many dogs we have known. You may need to experiment and carefully research then mix and match the treatments for the best result.
- Remember that fireworks night is no longer just a night - It can go on for a week or more, and fireworks are often let off unexpectedly, so it can be hard to plan ahead. That being said, giving your dog a maintenance dose of Dorwest’s Scullcap and Valerian Tablets for anxiety and nervousness can help to reduce your dog’s overall stress levels and help them to deal with unexpected noises and frights.
- Lead by example - enabling your dog’s fear-induced behaviour by making a big fuss over them when they are anxious or afraid can be counter-productive. Show your dog that there is nothing to fear by speaking calmly and not over-dramatising the situation. If they would prefer to curl up next to you, show them affection in a calming manner, try not to be anxious yourself - remember our dogs can pick up on our feelings too so we don't want to worsen their situation. A few drops of this full strength Valerian Compound administered to your dog at the first signs of fear or anxious behaviour is a fast-acting way to provide relief from external stress triggers and sources of anxiety.
- Dogs thrive on routine, so try to keep your dog on an even keel during fireworks season by walking and feeding them at their normal times wherever possible. It is important to bear in mind that your dog should be kept inside from dusk onwards when fireworks are in the offing, and that they may be unwilling to eat when they are stressed or a lot of noise is going on outside. Try to adjust your dog’s routine gradually in the run up to fireworks season, and have them safely ensconced indoors by the time it gets dark. A calming herbal room diffuser such as this Pet Remedy Valerian and Essential Oils Blend, which enhances the production of the nerve-calming GABA neurotransmitter, uses slow release technology to provide a relaxing but non-sedating effect on dogs and humans alike. Ideal for helping to ease your dog into a new routine or helping them to cope with unexpected sources of anxiety.
- Making sure that your home environment is safe and reassuring for your dog, and that they have a bolt hole which they can retreat to in times of fear can go a long way to easing the effect of external anxiety triggers. This Natural De-stressing and Calming Spray contains extracts of valerian, vetivert, sage and sweet basil, and can be sprayed on your furniture and your dog’s bedding to provide a naturally calming effect without sedation. Ideal for fireworks season or any other time of the year.