Words by Dogs Trust Salisbury.
As autumn approaches, firework season will soon whizz-pop into our lives. Dogs Trust Salisbury has issued advice to dog owners to help our canine companions navigate the Halloween, Diwali and Bonfire Night period, who might be scared by the unexpected bangs and bursts of fireworks.
Claire Rowe, Dogs Trust Salisbury manager said: “Dogs have approximately four times more sensitive hearing than humans, so the loud cracks and bangs of fireworks can often be a terrifying and confusing experience for them. Fireworks tend to be sudden, unpredictable and bright. This combination can be distressing and have a lasting impact on dogs.
“There are many things dog owners can do to help make fireworks less stressful including having a clear plan, ahead of time, to help their dog cope. Dogs will respond to fireworks in different ways, some will want to find a cosy hiding place, whilst others will want reassurance. It is important to recognise the individual needs of your dog, whilst also letting your dog do what makes them feel most comfortable.”
The charity urges owners to visit its website – http://www.dogstrust.org.uk/fireworks – for full guidance on how to help dogs stay safe and settled during fireworks. The top tips include:
Adapt your routine – to avoid taking your dog out when fireworks have started, gradually change their routine in the weeks leading up to events. For example, it may be a good idea to start walking them earlier in the day alongside gradually changing their feeding time to allow them time to exercise, eat and toilet before dark.
Plan ahead – ensure you are aware of any local firework displays and make arrangements so your dog is not left alone. Prepare their environment in advance, close curtains, turn on the lights, and turn on the television or some music to help block the outside noise.
Keep your dog safe – make sure your house and garden are secure.
Recognise the needs of your dog – fireworks can spark varied reactions from dogs, some will appear relaxed and unbothered by the loud bangs; others will show signs of anxiety or fear. They may show subtle signs, such as panting or licking their lips, finding somewhere to hide or seeking attention from their human family. Or they may show more obvious signs, such as pacing, barking or even toileting in the house. While these signs can be directly related to fear of noise, they can also indicate underlying health problems so please contact your vet as early as possible.
Enable their preferred response by letting your dog do what they feel most comfortable with. Some dogs will benefit from having a safe place to retreat to should they feel worried by fireworks. Introduce this safe place well in advance and encourage them there by building up positive associations with their new ‘den’.
Other dogs will cope best by seeking reassurance, so give them attention and comfort if they seek this out. Some dogs may not seem worried, and it’s best to keep them occupied with their favourite toys or activities to reduce the likelihood of them becoming anxious – experiment before the firework season begins, and slowly introduce them, to find out what they enjoy the most. It is important to remember, fear of fireworks can appear at any time and any age, so it is essential to support your dog throughout their life.
Seek guidance from your vet – they can help with advice, refer you to a clinical behaviourist, and may also prescribe medication if deemed necessary to help your dog cope. Medication can be extremely useful where dogs are fearful as it can not only help them cope during the fireworks event, but also stop their fear escalating after each event. Give any prescribed medication well in advance of events starting.
Claire adds: ‘We recommend noting down how your dog reacted during the fireworks and what worked well to help them cope in preparation for the next firework event. The following day, after an evening of fireworks, we would also advise returning to a normal routine to help dogs settle down. If you find that they appear worried during fireworks, it is a good idea to seek professional help before the next firework season starts.”
If you are planning a firework display at home, please consider: Letting your neighbours know well in advance, so they can prepare their dogs. Limiting your display to 30 minutes or less. Opting for quieter, lower decibel fireworks.
For those who have welcomed a puppy into their life recently, check out the free sound therapy programmes – https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/dog-advice/understanding-your-dog/sound-therapy-for-pets – that can help to gradually expose puppies to different noises in a positive way, so they can perceive them as normal
More detailed advice on preparing your dog for fireworks season visit www.dogstrust.org.uk/fireworks
Dogs Trust recommends dog owners to seek veterinary advice for any concerns. They can check if there are any contributing medical problems, and if necessary, refer you to a clinical behaviourist. Advice on finding a qualified behaviourist can be found at https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/dog-advice/understanding-your-dog/finding-behaviour-and-training-support