Unfortunately for many pet guardians fireworks and fear go hand in hand. These days fireworks seem to go off much more than just the 5th November. For many dogs in the UK this is extremely detrimental. Any loud noises, particularly of unknown origin, can be scary for any of us but especially for our canine companions.
This time of year it is much more about damage limitations – making sure the fireworks this season don’t make your pet worse for the following year. It is sadly all too common that following a firework season the worst affected dogs generalise the fear to the noise with darkness or being out of the house and so do not want to go out on walks at all. And we’ve all seen the rise in “lost dog” posters around this time of year after dogs have been spooked by bangs and fled. So this post is about safety around fireworks time (or thunder storms or any other loud bangs).
If you know your dog or cat struggles with noises then later in the year (January is usually a good time to start) you can do desensitisation and counterconditioning in order to change your dog’s perception of noises. We also do preventative noise work (to stop this being an issue in the first place) with all the puppies who do training with us!
Muffle the noise
Keep windows and curtains shut and play background music from the TV or radio nice and loudly.
Avoid where you can
This might sound obvious but I’ve seen many cases where people are aware their pet is scared of fireworks but didn’t think it would make much difference if they had them in the garden or took them to a display! Please don’t do this – it can be so damaging to them and their welfare. To the next stage if you can pop over to your neighbours and ask if they are planning on letting off fireworks think about going to a family or friend’s house that night with your dogs to avoid being so close!
Don’t take them out
Make sure you do walks early in the day, you and your dog don’t want to be outside when those fireworks go off so make sure you’re back home long before it gets dark outside.
Keep them in
Cats should be kept inside over this period even if they normally go outside. This will mean providing them with a litter tray even if they don’t usually have one. Because although lots of people have fun with fireworks, cats can unfortunately be an easy target for malicious acts. Also limit the time your dog is out in the garden to the toilet and think about going out with them. This is when teaching a cue to ask your dogs to go to the toilet is super useful! Do everything you can to stay in with them at home. If they’re scared then it’s going to be scary but it will be so much worse for them without you there.
Allow them to hide
One of the saddest things I hear in my behaviour cases are dogs desperate to hide from the loud noises and their guardians have dragged them out from their hiding places. This makes it much worse as at least hiding is a coping strategy. Try offering your dog a place to get away – a crate or covered space can be a nice option. (hint – try putting a duvet around the crate, it really muffles the sound!). If they choose to hide elsewhere let them stay there for as long as they need.
If your pet wants to come in for cuddles when they are worried then let them! Some people worry about “reinforcing the fear” doing this, but as fear is an emotion it cannot be reinforced. Some animals find this comforting but be careful to let them decide if they want it or not. Don’t hunt them out for a cuddle! Also try to comfort them without yourself getting worked up, if you stress they will stress more. Dogs learn by social referencing which means they learn from others. So if you seem worried by fireworks they are more likely to be worried by them too.
Make sure all pets have an up to date tag and microchip. This is a legal requirement at all times of year. It increases the chances of getting them home in case they do get out in all the panic!
Talk to your vet
I can’t stress this enough! I see many clients who had no idea how much their vet could help them and their dog. There are medications available which reduced the level of anxiety for your pet. But more importantly some of these medications block their memory too. This means that if they are scared, at least this fear is not worst at the end of the season. Limiting this impact means rehabilitation is easier. Ask your vet for some memory blocking medication for your worried dogs and it will make it this whole season much easier on you and your dog!
If this is your pet’s first firework season and you’re not sure how they will react still follow this guide. If they aren’t worried they may well be distracted by a chew or stuffed Kong. This can also help them to form a positive association with loud noises if the treat is extra high value!
So this is how to get you through this period, but if any concerns with your dog’s behaviour get in touch on 07785 800008 or firstname.lastname@example.org to chat to us. With preventative work now and some work in the “off season” we can break the bond between fireworks and fear!