Autumn brings changing leaves, falling temperatures and bonfire night, with its colourful fireworks, booming explosions, and crackling flames. However, for our furry companions, it can be a source of extreme stress and anxiety. Dogs, in particular, have heightened sensitivity to loud noises and bright lights, making Bonfire Night a challenging time for many pets and their owners.
There are several management strategies you can employ to ensure a stress-free and safe evening for your canine friend.
- Preparing in Advance
The key to helping your dog through Bonfire Night is preparation. Here are some steps to take well before the event:
a. Desensitisation: To minimise the impact of sudden loud noises, you can expose your dog to recorded firework sounds at low volumes in the weeks leading up to Bonfire Night. Gradually increase the volume while offering treats and affection to help them associate the noise with positive experiences.
b. Consult with a vet: If your dog's anxiety is particularly severe, consult your veterinarian for advice on medications or other therapeutic options. They can recommend anxiety-reducing medications if necessary.
c. Identification: Ensure your dog is wearing proper identification, such as a collar with an updated tag and a microchip, in case they become scared and try to run away.
- Safe Haven
Create a safe and comfortable space for your dog to retreat to during the festivities. This could be a quiet room, a cosy crate, or a covered pen. Ensure that their favourite toys, blankets, and a comfortable bed are available in this space. Dogs naturally seek shelter when they're scared, so giving them a designated area can make them feel secure.
Minimise the noise from the outside world by closing windows and curtains, as well as turning on soft, calming music or white noise, well in advance of the fireworks. This will help muffle the sounds of fireworks and other loud noises. Additionally, you can purchase or make soundproof curtains to further reduce external sounds.
Distracting your dog with interactive toys and puzzles can help redirect their attention away from the fireworks. Kongs filled with treats, puzzle toys, and interactive feeders are excellent choices to keep your dog engaged. A long lasting treat, such as a pizzle, skin chew or bone can be the perfect distraction.
- Calming Products
Consider using calming products such as anxiety wraps, diffusers, or sprays that contain pheromones like Adaptil (formerly D.A.P.) to help reduce your dog's stress. These products can emit comforting scents and signals that can provide a sense of security.
- Exercise and Routine
On the day of Bonfire Night, make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise earlier in the day. A tired dog is generally less anxious. Stick to your regular routine as much as possible, including feeding times, walks, and play sessions. Maintaining a familiar schedule can help your dog feel more secure - however if you normally have a walk after dark, it may be better to avoid this completely, especially whilst there are displays.
- Avoid Exposing Your Dog to Fireworks
Try to limit your dog's exposure to fireworks as much as possible. No matter how calm they appear to be, avoid taking them to firework displays, and if possible, stay home with them. If you must go out, ask a friend or family member to stay with your dog.
- Positive Reinforcement
When the fireworks start, stay calm, and project a sense of confidence and security. Use positive reinforcement techniques to reward your dog for remaining calm. Treats and praise can help create positive associations with the noise.
- ThunderShirts and Calming Wraps
Products like ThunderShirts and other calming wraps can provide gentle, consistent pressure that many dogs find comforting during stressful events like Bonfire Night. These snug-fitting garments can help reduce anxiety and keep your dog feeling secure.
- Herbal and Natural Remedies
Several herbal and natural remedies are believed to have calming effects on dogs. These include chamomile, valerian root, and lavender. Consult your veterinarian before using any herbal remedies to ensure they are safe and appropriate for your dog.
- Stay with Your Dog
If your dog is especially anxious during Bonfire Night, consider staying with them and providing comfort and reassurance. Sitting with your dog and offering pets and cuddles can go a long way in easing their anxiety.
- Medications and Supplements
In severe cases, your veterinarian may recommend anxiety medications or supplements. These should be prescribed and administered under the guidance of a professional. Never give your dog any medication without consulting your vet.
Bonfire Night can be a challenging time for dogs, but with the right management strategies and a bit of preparation, you can help your furry friend stay calm and comfortable. Remember that every dog is different, and what works for one may not work for another, so be patient and flexible in your approach. The most important thing is to keep your dog safe and secure while ensuring they have a stress-free evening. By following these tips and putting your dog's well-being first, you can make Bonfire Night an enjoyable experience for both you and your four-legged companion.