Guy Fawkes night can be scary for dogs. Here are my tips for keeping your pets calm in the midst of the confusion.
Keeping your dog calm on fireworks night is all about preparation –preferably well in advance. If you wait until your dog is trembling beneath the table there’s very little you can do to help. But with a little bit of forward thinking, the whole event can be a lot easier for both of you.
In the run up to Fireworks night
How to desensitise your dog to sudden noises
Most dogs can be trained to stay calm and ignore sudden noises. Depending on the dog this can take anything from a few weeks to a few months. However, working on a 1-2-1 basis with a qualified behaviourist and doing lots of practise, should, in theory, speed up the process. For those of you that have attended classes many of you will have learnt how to do this for fireworks season.
We dog trainers call this desensitisation. Desensitisation is a technique commonly used to help dogs who are reactive to strangers, bicycles, other dogs, car journeys and all manner of scary things.
The important thing to remember when desensitising a dog, is to take things slowly and work at the dog’s pace, always being mindful of the 3 “D’s” of dog training. Distance, Duration and Distraction.
For desensitisation to noise the 3 D’s go like this:
Distance: Start with the trigger a long way away and gradually bring it closer (for noise desensitisation, start with a low volume sound and gradually get louder)
Duration: Keep training sessions short to begin with – don’t let stress levels build up.
Distraction: Don’t let the sounds be your dog’s primary focus. Use trick training, scent work, treats etc to keep their mind on other things. That way they learn to associate the sound with good stuff.
You can find a recording of fireworks sounds that you play on a device where you can easily control the volume. A smart phone or a CD player with a remote control is ideal. You buy a suitable CD from Amazon.co.uk relatively cheaply. However, be aware this will never truly replicate the real thing as the sounds are incredibly intense and create smells and vibrations too.
Set your dog up for a nice training session with lots of mental stimulation. Start with the sound off, and when Fido is nicely absorbed in the training, play the fireworks noises at low volume for a very short time. I would suggest no more than 15 seconds to start with. If Fido seems happy, wait for a couple of minutes and then try 20 seconds of sound. At the first signs of stress, stop.
At the next training session, repeat, this time with the sound a little louder and played for a little longer.
Don’t rush it – your dog needs to learn to associate the sound of fireworks with a positive feeling. When fear enters the equation, your progress will be halted and maybe even set back.
Creating a safe place for you dog
A safe place needs to be established BEFORE the fireworks start popping. If your dog is already crate trained then you are well on the way. If not, then getting him used to relaxing in a quiet place will help on the night.
Create a nice comfy den and encourage your dog to chill out there while you are watching TV, preparing a meal or just going about your everyday life.
Talk to your vet or behaviourist
Vets and vet nurses usually have lots of good tips for keeping dogs calm in all sorts of circumstances. They can help you explore herbal remedies and medicines that will take the edge off a fearful situation. Again, make the appointment well in advance of fireworks night to give you time to find the right treatment.
Medication is OK for an emergency but in my opinion there is no substitute for a dog find its own coping mechanisms through training and mental stimulation. And for that you need to talk to a behaviourist.
Start with a 1-2-1 session and then you can devise a training program that’s tailored to you and your dog
More about 1-2-1 dog training
Even if your dog is great with noises there is no harm providing some supplementary support. We recommend remedies such as:
On the day – when fireworks are imminent
Hopefully by now you will be prepared with a safe place for your dog, will have taken veterinary advice and had several session of desensitising training. These last minute tips will help to ensure that fireworks night passes relatively peacefully for your dog.
Clear the decks
Have a quick tidy around the house. Even if your dog is not normally destructive, he or she may decide to relieve the anxiety by chewing, jumping on furniture, scratching doors or involuntarily toileting. Make sure that your precious things are put well out of harm’s way and that there are some lovely chewable dog toys available for stress release.
Use up excess energy
Take a long, calming walk during the day. Your objective here is to use up as much as your dog’s physical energy as you can without getting him or her over-excited. Make sure that any fast-paced games are followed up by a nice long sniffy walk to calm down.
Do lots of mentally stimulating activities too. Walks are great but thinking games really do tire your dog out.
Try some scent work or some trick training to really make their brains work. Take a look at Dogversity for activities that are fun for you and mentally tiring for your dog.
With brain and body exercised to the max, your dog is more likely to sleep through any disturbance.
Just before dark…….
Feed your dog earlier and half an hour later feed a carbohydrate meal eg a medium dog 20g of pasta to help them feel more sleepy.
Take your dog out for a toilet break - You may want to keep your dog on a long lead for this one – just in case unexpectedly early bangs cause them to spook and run. Always check gates are secure and always be with your dog when out in the garden in case they get scared.
Draw the curtains to shut out the flashing lights and turn on the TV or radio so that there is some background noise. An ideal music choice is a mix of soft rock and reggae music. The mix of the two genres have been researched and the changes in tempos have been seen to help relax worried dogs.
As darkness falls, bring out a fabulous but calming activity – A snuffle mat, licki mat or tasty marrow bone will be a great distraction.
If your dog does get stressed, re-assure them. YOU CANNOT REINFORCE FEAR. Fear is an emotion and your dog need’s you to support them and reassure them as much as possible.
Tools to help you prepare and take part in for fireworks night
Scent detectives: Online training course for you and your dog to work through at home. Scent work great for calming an anxious dog and provides lots of mental stimulation
Click here for info
Trick Training: Have fun while you are distracting your pup from the sound of fireworks. Video tutorial to help you teach your dog all manner of new behaviours.
Click here for info