Dogs have much more sensitive hearing than humans. Dogs do not understand the loud noises mixed with the bright flashes, and as the times go by, without assistance, the strong emotional memory compounds, meaning that a small stimulus can cause a huge anxiety attack. The key to noise anxiety is desensitisation, think of gun dogs, they have constant loud bangs and never any fear, however this does not happen over night and without work, anxiety gets worse. Work from a puppy is ideal, but you can teach an old dog new tricks! Begin as soon as you can to teach fireworks equal fun.
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1. Get those dates in your diary
Some occasions are fixed every year, such as New Year’s Eve and Bonfire night 5th November, however, fireworks displays go on for weeks around these occasions, so contact your local council and local displays to find out what nights they are planning events. Also contact your neighbours and ask them to let you know if they are planning fireworks, explaining that you have a nervous dog, so you need to prepare.
2. Buy a CD or play YouTube
There are many CDs and channels that play fireworks and thunderstorm noises to help desensitisation to the loud bangs and cracks. Play the noises quietly at first while giving something pleasant, an amazing tasty food is a great one to help change their emotional state and therefore their anxieties depreciate. If their anxiety returns in the practice, you are moving too fast, quieten the noise until the anxiety has stopped, but do not stop it. Have a Kong or equivalent filled with Kibble and baby food mix that has been in the freezer to keep them occupied for some time on the night. Really anxious dogs may not want to eat on the night. Classical music can also drown the sound out, or even trainers tumbling in a washing machine.
3. A safe place
This is where a crate come into its own. If you have a crate that they love and see as a haven, they can retreat there to feel safe. Put it in the centre of the house away from any windows or doors and fill it with a comfy bed and their favourite toys. Put a cover over the top, think of when you were a child and you hid under the covers to feel safe. Do not close the door, as this will increase the anxiety. Close your windows and curtains.
4. It’s the touch
Dogs mental stimulus mixes with their physical stimulus, so a pleasant stroke can bring their anxiety down. There are special moves, such as with the Tellington TTouch that can really help.
5. Wrap them up
Dogs, like humans, are comforted by gentle pressure. You can buy shirts in most pet shops that are designed for this, but with a little time you can make one of your own with a scarf or a t-shirt. Just ensure they are not too tight and NEVER leave your dog alone while wearing one.
6. Be there for them.
Your dog will feel much safer if you are there with them. They are social animals and require support. Have a movie night planned. Get some great movies that you can ramp up that include lots of bangs and noise to help build the desensitisation and cover the bangs. Let your neighbours know your plan.
7. Fun and Games
Make the night a fun one. Plan hunting games inside, get the best treats in to use as rewards when they are really relaxed. Get them to concentrate on something else to help ignore the bangs. All this time, have your CD playing to help with the desensitisation and avoid the shock when the bangs start.
8. The early bird
Get out on a good walk early and ensure you return before it starts to get dark. This keeps the chance of fireworks to a minimum and it also ensures they do not have lots of energy to turn into anxiety. Just remember dogs under a year should be on limited walks.. Keep all animals in once it starts to get dark. Ensure all tags and chips are upto date as missing dogs are at their highest when fireworks are around.
9. Smellies and oils
A pheromone diffuser, collar or spray can really help, but these need setting up around a month in advance, as the effects grow over time. CBD Oil has been known to help calm them down too. There is also a variety of safe, herbal remedies to help.
10. Ask a professional
If they suffer greatly from anxiety, contact a vet or pet behaviour specialist to give you advise.
Fear and anxiety has been stopped in one season, but often it takes longer. Just remember, practice makes perfect. Don’t forget, it is not just dogs, cats, rodents, horses, cattle, birds, and any other animal or reptile, they all suffer.