Autumn Advice Part Three: Bonfire Night!
Bonfire Night is probably the worst night for pet owners, particularly if your dog is nervous or scared by fireworks. Even the most well-adjusted dogs can be affected by the loud bangs and high pitches noises common with fireworks.
There is growing support for fireworks to only be available at official displays, or a move towards only allowing silent fireworks as is the position of the town of Collechio in Italy. One of the most significant announcements recently is that from Sainsburys who will not be selling any fireworks at all this year. But at the moment fireworks are still widely available.
Although it would be wonderful if we didn't have to worry about fireworks affecting our pets, it is still within our remit as responsible owners that we take steps to help our dogs cope with the firework season as best we possibly can.
RECOGNISING SIGNS OF STRESS
Being able to recognise signs of stress is an important skill, both at this time of year and more generally. That's why I have a Canine Body Language Level 2 VTQ - to help ensure that your dogs are happy during their photo shoot experience with me, and it's something I really recommend all dog owners should consider doing.
One of the key things about understanding Canine Body Language is that it is about interpreting the signs as a whole and knowing your dog. What is a sign of stress is one dog may not be so in another, and sometimes you have to make a judgement on how to interpret the signs.
Signs that your dog may be stressed by fireworks are:
- lip licking
- whale eye (showing whites of eyes)
- trembling & shaking
- excessive barking
- cowering & trying to hide
- pacing and panting
- refusing to eat
- trying to run away
- destructive behaviour (e.g. chewing)
So how can we help our dogs to cope with Bonfire Night?
BEFORE BONFIRE NIGHT
There are a few things you can do before Bonfire Night to help prepare your dog and hopefully make things easier on him.
A lot of events will take place either on Bonfire Night itself or the nearest weekend. While this doesn't help with people setting off fireworks in their gardens locally, it does mean that you can be aware of when bigger events are happening and can put things in place to help your dog on those days.
Contrary to popular opinion, socialisation is not just about your puppy meeting as many people and other dogs as possible. It's about getting your puppy to have positive interactions to the sights and sounds of every day life. One of the ways you can encourage this is to get a socialisation CD which will play common sounds, including fireworks. Hearing these sounds from an early age in a safe, calm environment will help them to adapt and become a calm, confident adult dog
But what if your dog is already scared of fireworks? A desensitisation CD is a great way to help them get used to the noise slowly. Start by playing the CD at the lowest possible volume, and very gradually increase the volume and length of time you play it over several weeks, rewarding good and positive behaviours as you do so. If your dog shows signs of any anxiety, stop and go back to the previous volume until he is calm.
ON THE NIGHT
There are basic things you can do on the day to help your dog cope with Bonfire Night. Make sure you walk your dog well before the fireworks are due to start, so that they can be safely settled at home in good time.
CLOSE DOORS & WINDOWS
Make sure you close doors and windows, and draw the curtains to block out any flashing lights from outside
MAKE A DEN
Create a safe space for your dog to hide in if they want to - this can be as simple as putting blankets over a crate if your dog is crate trained. Make sure all family members know to leave your dog alone if he is in his safe space.
Playing music with a repetitive beat will help to drown out the sounds of fireworks and keep your dog calm.
If your dog normally seeks reassurance from you, it is absolutely fine to give them comfort and attention. It has been proven that you can not reinforce fear, so don't be afraid to give them some fuss if they ask for it.
Bear in mind though that not all dogs will want this - some will prefer to go and hide, and they should be allowed to do this.
ENCOURAGE CHEWING & GIVE TREATS
Chewing is a natural way that dogs relieve stress, so encourage them to do this by giving them a Kong, a pizzle or other chew. You can also try a scatter feed to help them relax.
THUNDERSHIRT AND OTHER WRAPS
One way to help your dog cope with fireworks is to invest in a Thundershirt for your dog. This works by applying gentle, constant pressure which helps to calm anxiety, fear and over-excitement. If you don't have a Thundershirt, you can also make a DIY Canine Anxiety Wrap which will work in the same way.
KEEP CALM YOURSELF
If you are stressed, your dog will sense it and this will in turn make them more anxious. Keep calm and act normally to help your dog relax.
REMEMBER - THINGS CAN CHANGE!
Even if your dog has been fine on previous occasions, don't forget that their experiences can cause a change in their reactions.
My mum's dog Charlie had always beeen fine with Bonfire Night, until early last year when she was walking him across the fields and a farmer let off a crow-scarer nearby. She was lucky he was on lead at the time as she said he would have bolted.
Roll around to last year's fireworks, and we happened to be visiting on Bonfire Night. Charlie can be quite anxious at times, but I have never seen him so scared - ears well back, tail tucked, whale eye, pacing, trembling and refusing to eat.. In the end we managed to get him to scatter feed and gave him comfort which helped, but it was quite horrific to watch.
Consider whether your dog has had any experiences that could affect his reactions and be prepared to adapt based on how he behaves on the night.
Do you have any tips for helping your dog cope with Bonfire Night? Let me know in the comments