I know that for some of you, the firework extravaganza isn’t over. There are still people setting them off and there are organised displays that have been postponed due to the weather so there will be even more to come and that’s without thinking about the countdown to New Year.
I can tell that for your frightened canine friends, the aftermath could continue for a while yet.
Fear has a lasting effect. It’s not something that simply evaporates with reassurance and no matter how much we love our canine friends and have done everything in our power to keep them safe, looking after them in the aftermath of the fireworks is just as important as the care we offer when the damn things are exploding in the sky.
Fear has a purpose; it prepares us for danger. There’s a physiological response and when that first bang of a firework happens, chemicals are released that shut down the functions that are not needed in order to stay alive, such as the digestive system; a light snack is never on the priority list in a moment of perceived danger. At the same time, elements of the body’s physiology are sharpened so that survival is more likely; hearing or sight can become laser-focused, the heart rate increases and blood flow to the muscles increases so running away is a tangible option. There’s a part of the brain (the amygdala) that helps with the focus on survival and also stores the memory of the perceived danger.
When you put this in the context of a threat to life, this is an incredibly clever response that happens, without any conscious thought whatsoever, which is designed to preserve life.
When you put that in the context of the first bang of a firework… and repeated with every subsequent bang; you can begin to empathise with what your dog has been through. That prolonged response has a lasting effect. The senses remain heightened, the chemicals are still in the system and for most dogs, all of that fear was experienced in a place they usually feel safe, surrounded by the people they trust. To say it’s a confusing time has to be the understatement of the year.
That level of fear is also exhausting.
So, if your dog has been frightened, please remember that in the aftermath, they need all the gentle care and attention you can offer. If they need more sleep, they want time out or they’re reluctant to go outside, take things slowly. Be aware that they might need to remain on lead for longer so that you know they’re safe if there’s an unexpected sound – the senses remain heightened for a while, so the familiar sounds of doors closing, sirens and all of the daily noises they’re usually accustomed to become overwhelming. They might not have the same tolerance levels as they’re recovering, they might be more vocal, or seem agitated; that’s a perfectly normal response to a frightening situation and it’s our job to show them that they’re safe, they have choices and that there’s no pressure.
Even though the immediate threat has (hopefully) gone, the impact will linger for a while.