It’s that time of year again, with Diwali drawing to a close, the anniversary of the attempt to blow up Parliament looming (let’s not make any jokes about that right now) and the build-up to the start of 2020 will be upon us before we know it.
Fireworks; love them or hate them, the chances are that you won’t be able to escape them.
If you and your canine buddies had a horrific time last year thanks to the fireworks, you might have been working on this since Spring, desensitising them to the sounds and following a programme that will hopefully make this year easier to cope with.
Or, maybe you haven’t! There’s no judgement from me. Every year I get a steaming cold and every year I promise myself that I’ll drink more vitamin c. Then, at the first sneeze of the season, I berate myself for not doing that and invest in enough oranges to ensure Mr Del Monte is living his best life.
Sometimes, we just have to ride the storm.
To help you do that, we have some top tips. It won’t make this easy, it won’t stop your dog from freaking out when the fireworks start and it won’t be a magic cure. It will, hopefully, help you ride the storm.
Before I get to the tips, I just want to take a moment to remind you that even when the fireworks have stopped, the effects of hearing them are still having an impact on your dog. For dogs that are frightened of the noises; the whoosh, the bang, the whizz, the pop… it is fright after fright after fright. Being that frightened is exhausting. They’re in their own home, the place they usually feel safe and relaxed and all of a sudden, there’s an onslaught on their senses. The chemical response to the fear is flooding their system while the sensory overload means that they won’t be able to take on anything additional, often that includes your reassurance. As humans, we often turn the TV or music up to try and drown out the sound; that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s even more of an onslaught on the senses. Go easy on your dog and remember that they might be more tired than usual, they could have heightened anxiety in situations where they’re usually fine and they could react and respond in ways that are out of character. So, at this time of year, it’s not just about managing the times that you hear the fireworks, it’s for a day or four afterwards too. If there are longer-term effects, that’s something to think about working on so that your dog can be supported to recover.
Stick to daylight hours and if there’s any chance that fireworks could be let off during the day, keep your dog on lead. I know that might sound silly, after all, who would let fireworks off in daylight? PLONKERS, that’s who! That’s a shortened, polite version of the full-on rant I had when we lived in Birmingham and PLONKERS set fireworks off in the afternoon. You can’t plan for PLONKERS so just assume they’re everywhere. You can ensure that you’ve emptied your dog and they’re ready for a big night in, if they’re not tired because they’ve had a short, on lead, walk, you can play some scent games or get some puzzle games to occupy them once they’re home.
Build a den but don’t expect your dog to join you in it! They might want to dive behind the sofa, hide under a bed or lie somewhere familiar. Don’t shut them in a room or a crate as that can be even more terrifying, just let them settle, safely, wherever makes sense to them. They will look frightened, they will look anxious and seeing them like this will break your heart, but remember we’re riding the storm in the best way we can. It is a frightening and anxiety-inducing time and giving your dog the choice to hang out wherever they feel most secure is the best thing you can do for them.
Block Out The Light
When we’re thinking about the sensory overload of fireworks, it’s not just the noise that has an impact. The light can be frightening in its own way and that is something we can block out. Close the curtains, blinds or put up temporary covers if the light is still coming into the room your dog is in. If you have the lights on in your home, that will help to take away the impact of the fireworks too.
Shut The Door
I know that you won’t be prone to leaving your doors and windows open at this time of year, but remember that a frightened dog often just wants to escape and their usual patterns of behaviour could change. If you answer a knock at the door or if you have left a window open to reduce the smell of your burnt dinner, your dog could seize the opportunity to make a break for freedom. They won’t be sitting in their bed with a logical plan of action, debating whether the noise could actually be worse outside; they’ll just make a run for it at that moment.
Long-lasting treats, kongs and bones are an option, but remember that your dog might not want to eat if they’re anxious. Don’t worry if they walk away from their all-time favourite treat, I’ve been known to feel too anxious to accept a doughnut on rare occasions and I made up for it when I was feeling better. Also, if you’re walking your dog early and not taking them out again until the noise has subsided; remember they will have longer to wait for their toilet break.
Your dog will be looking to you for cues. If you’re overly anxious because you’re worried about them, overly reassuring or struggling with the impact this is having on your dog, you’re not helping! The best way you can help your dog is to behave as you usually would. Play, chat, hang out and ensure that you don’t overthink your dog’s choices. If they usually curl up with you on the sofa but have opted to spend the evening under the dining room table, it doesn’t mean that you have to crawl under there too. Check they’re safe and leave them to cope in the best way they can.
This Too Shall Pass
If you did have a nightmare experience last year, or you have a new canine family member that you know is anxious, it’s worth thinking about talking with your vet or stocking up on Adaptil (other calming products are available and the jury’s out on whether they work… as with most things, I’ve heard stories of them making a huge difference and stories of them making no difference at all, so you can check it out and decide what’s best for your dog).
Just like when we’re living through a difficult time, we need kindness, compassion and calm understanding, so be the person your dog needs and this too shall pass.