None of my dogs but one ever cared about the fireworks. Oscar was the one who got unlucky. He was content for years – we could even walk in the evening without worrying that Ozzy would react to the noise or the sparkles. He was fine. Until one day when our not very bright neighbour decided to fire a petard in his garden less than a meter from me and my dog. He knew we were outside yet chose not to say anything before making me jump and Oscar… well… Oscar got permanently scared.
Since that horrible night any distant sound of a fire work would send him into a panic mode, so we all had to stay in a room, close the curtains and play a movie while lying on the floor to keep Ozzy, who would find his safe spot under the bed, company.
It happened every year and was absolutely heartbreaking.
So when I get to talk to other pup parents whose dogs are scared of the fire works I can understand their frustration, anger and helplessness. It kills you to see your dog in such a state.
It it was up to me, I’d ban the DIY shop-bought fireworks completely. Because I don’t believe that 5 minutes of cheap nasty fun is worth the fear experienced by 40 % of dogs in the UK.
For now we need to be prepared in advance and here are a few ideas that may work for your pooch.
First of all, stay calm. Dogs can sniff the change in our emotions including stress and anxiety – and alter their own stress hormones to mimic our state.
Don’t change the routine. Any specific preparations need to be done as smoothly and routinely as possible. The smart cocker can easily learn that drawing the curtains or glances at the window at certain time of the day can mean that terrifying noise and flashes are about to happen. Try to distract him with a play (or even better – training with treats, or a yummy dinner!) whilst somebody else does the prep.
Have a fab long walk in the morning and a couple of training sessions during the day to tire your cocker physically and emotionally.
Don’t walk after dark. The sudden noise and flashes can not only traumatise your spaniel, but make him run off into the darkness.
Keep your dog indoors. If you need to pop out to the garden, ensure that nobody is about to fire a petard nearby. It’s always worth asking the neighbours if they are planning to do so and letting them know that you have a dog who is scared of the fireworks.
Build a den. It does not have to be a crate. Cover a chair with a blanket, put another blanket and a toy inside. A chew toy or treats can also distract some less sensitive dogs and help them relieve anxiety through chewing and licking.
Create some “positive noise”. A good movie or better still, a compilation of tunes chosen for their ability to calm a dog, can work wonders. This year Classic FM will be playing Pet Sounds on 2 and 5 November.
Train your dog to ignore the fireworks – this has to be done in advance, ideally when the dog is still young and learning about the world. There are wonderful CDs that play “life noises” including the fireworks. Alternatively you can have them on your iPhone. Use whilst you are playing or cuddling with your pup. If it’s an older dog who is already uncomfortable (but not completely frightened!) with the sound of the fireworks, you can slowly recondition or desensitise him by playing the fireworks sound on your phone or CD whilst giving him plenty of treats and praise.
Stay with your pup during the firework nights even if he is hiding in his den or under your bed. Stroke him, talk to him, do whatever makes him feel safe.
Learn a few basic T-Touch techniques (gently massaging the ears outwards (in cockers), all the way down from the ear canal to the edge is a good one to try) designed specifically to relieve anxiety.
Try a thunder shirt. The idea comes from the T-Touch Wrap that creates constant pressure in certain areas of the body and helps dogs who are frightened or anxious. You can get the vest online or make a DIY version.
Turn to aromatherapy for help. There are some wonderful scented candles that may be very useful during the firework season. Try Dug & Bitch Flicker No. 3, Terrible Twins Lavender No. 1, DR Harris, Campagnie de Provence VO Lavender, Voluspa French Lavender, Terra Soy or The Great British Bee candles with lavender.
And remember… look out for any remnants of the fireworks on the ground when walking with your dogs. Those are very toxic if eaten – and dogs do find them enticing and palatable for some reason.
Wishing you a (relatively) peaceful time of the season!