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How to help your dog on bonfire night

How to help your dog cope around Bonfire night
How to help your dog on bonfire night

It’s that time of year again…the season when it seems like every other night the sky lights up with spectacular starbursts of colour, and the bangs and crashes from a seemingly endless myriad of fireworks invade the peace and quiet of our homes.

Fireworks are a joy for us to watch as they spread their magic across the skies but for the nation’s dogs, they can make life a misery.

What is noise phobia in dogs?

Studies show that around half of the country’s dogs suffer from noise phobia – and that number may just be the tip of the iceberg. While it can be caused by thunderstorms, gunshots and any loud unpredictable noises, the main and most common cause at this time of year is fireworks.

What are the symptoms of noise phobia in dogs?

The symptoms of noise phobia are wide-ranging, and go from the slightly worried to full-blown panic attacks. They include panting, pacing, trembling, salivating, loss of toilet training, becoming clingy, hiding, vomiting, digging, trying to escape and even aggression.

This can be a nightmare for owners but it is far worse for the poor dog who is in an almost constant state of high stress during the firework season. The stress hormone; cortisol, takes up to 96 hours to return to normal after a severe noise phobic episode.

Symptoms tend to be progressive too – with each episode producing more severe reactions, and fears to other sounds may also develop as the dog becomes more and more sensitised.

While noise phobias can be cured, or at least managed, but it requires dedication and a lot of hard work from owners. Prevention however is easy, and given firework season comes round every single year, both breeders and new owners should make sure they work hard on this to make sure their dog doesn’t suffer in this way.

How can you help your dog on fireworks night?

If your dog is already noise phobic, you need to try and manage firework season in the very best way you can.

1. Time your walk

Take your dog out for their last walk of the day early so they are relaxed and tired, and also they don’t have to go out when fireworks are likely.

2. Try white noise

Use the TV or radio to try and mask some of the noise.

3. Try some distractions

If your dog is only slightly worried, distract them with a treat, a game or some training to take their mind off the fireworks.

4. Make them comfortable

Don’t try and make your dog face up to their fear. For them it is very real and it is scary. Far better give them somewhere that feels safe – and most dogs find comfort in having a den that they can go to.

5. Give your dog a safe space

Set up a crate or a pen in a quiet corner of the room as far from windows and doors as possible with plenty of comfortable bedding and ideally a cover over the top so the dog has somewhere they can go and hide safely. Provide water and some treats you know your dog likes (although they will probably not be able to eat them). If they chose to use the den, let them stay there as long as they need without disturbing them – but stay close so they can feel your presence and in case they need your comfort.

6. Comfort and reassure them

Ignore the old fashioned and out-dated advice about ignoring your dog when they show fearful behaviour. The thinking used to be that by comforting your dog you were rewarding their fearful behaviour and would make it worse. Thankfully we know far better now… I mean if you were feeling really scared or panicky would you feel better if your friends, family or loved ones ignored you or told you not to be so stupid? No, you would take comfort from their presence and support – and your dog is exactly the same.

Don’t force your dog to stay with you but if they come to you for comfort or reassurance make sure you give them just that.

7. Keep tabs on event timings

Watch the press and local advertising so you know of organised events in the area. If you have a local firework display, consider leaving the area for that time rather than give your dog the stress of having to deal with it and also have them associate the noise and panic with home. Go out in the car, miles from anywhere – and stay there until you know it will be over.

8. Consider complementary treatments

Treatments such as Adaptil, Breakthrough dog food, herbal remedies and other natural, drug-free products that may help. If your dog’s symptoms are extreme however, talk to your vet about possible medication.

And next year...?

Most importantly, as soon as the firework season is over, plan for next year. Find an accredited and experienced behaviourist who can work with you over the year to try and reduce or cure your dog’s noise phobia before it all happens again next year so you can enjoy the fireworks without worrying about your dog.

About the Author

Carolyn is an accredited behaviourist and trainer with over 20 years experience working with dogs and other companion animals. She has written books, over 500 published articles and trains owners and professionals alike both nationally and internationally. Carolyn is also an experienced broadcaster and presenter, has appeared in five TV series’ and countless radio shows. Her passion is for helping owners build a strong and positive relationship with their dogs and fully develop the potential of the bond between them.

More articles from Carolyn Menteith

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