Dogs, Halloween and the Firework Season – how you can help them feel safe!

That time of year is approaching again.  Halloween, Bonfire Night, Christmas and then New Year.  Most of us like these celebrations (I am one of those people), but I still wish fireworks weren’t part of them!

Whilst you are choosing your Halloween costumes, buying sparklers and fireworks and attending Bonfire displays, please don’t forget about the traumatic affects these can have on your own dogs and other pets/wildlife.  It is estimated that 45% of dogs in the UK show signs of fear when they hear fireworks!  The costumes worn by trick-or-treaters at Halloween and the loud bangs and flashes of fireworks on Bonfire Night are exciting for us humans (well, some of us) but they are very frightening for dogs and so please plan ahead of these events and keep your dog safe. 

Make sure to walk your dog before trick-or-treaters start their rounds and keep a firm grip on the lead as many dogs are frightened by people in costumes (which is why our dressing up week at Happy Buddies’ Puppy School is so important)!

Firework phobia is treatable and our dogs don’t have to suffer every year – we can do our bit to help them cope better and our planning should be starting now (early October).

 

Here are some steps you can take to minimise your dog’s stress levels:

 

DO: 

  • Check where and when displays in your local area are being held.  Also, ask your neighbours to let you know if they are planning anything.
  • Acclimatise your dog to noises prior to the big night.  You can purchase a great CD from Puppy School called ‘Sounds For Life’ which gives you the opportunity to introduce your dog to a variety of potentially disturbing noises in a controlled manner, including firework.
  • Use a Pet Remedy or ADAPTIL Diffuser Plug In (most vets stock these).  You should start using one of these now (early October) as they can take time to become effective.  You can also purchase sprays and use this on your dogs bedding or in their crate to help create a calm environment around them.
  • Consider using a Thundershirt and get your dog used to wearing it before the firework season starts.  These are great as they apply constant but gentle pressure which has a calming effect for a lot of dogs if they are anxious or fearful.
  • Make a safe den for your dog to retreat to if they feel scared. Alternatively, let your dog take refuge under furniture and if you are going out, include an old, unwashed piece of clothing like a woolly jumper so that your dog can smell your scent and feel comfortable.
  • Distract your dog from the noise by having the TV or the radio switched on.
  • Try to act and behave as normal as you can.  Your dog will pick up on any odd behaviour.
  • Remain calm, happy and cheerful as this will send positive signals to your dog. Reward calm behaviour with treats or playing with toys of interest (but don’t force them to play).
  • Consult your vet if your dog has any health problems or is taking any medication before giving remedies to help them cope with fireworks night, and always follow the manufacturers' instructions.
  • Feed your dog a couple of hours before you expect any disturbances as once the fireworks start, your dog may be too anxious to eat.
  • Remember to make sure your dog has a constant supply of fresh water as dogs pant more, get thirsty and so drink more when they are anxious.
  • Avoid walking your dog during times when fireworks are most likely to go off.  Walk your dog before dusk.  It may be some time before they feel safe to venture outside again to relieve them self.
  • Make sure you shut all doors and windows in your home and don't forget to draw the curtains. This will block out any scary flashes of light and reduce the noise level of fireworks. Don't forget to block off cat flaps to stop dogs (and cats) escaping.
  • Shut your dog safely inside a room before opening the front door.
  • Your dog might choose to hide under the bed but if they come to you for comfort, make sure that you give it to them - ignoring your dog would only make things worse as they wouldn't understand your withdrawal from them.  Just do it in a way that is not too exaggerated, keep your comforting happy and calm.
  • Keep a collar and ID tag on your dog.  Make sure your dog is microchipped and your contact details are up to date, this will ensure you are reunited as quickly as possible if the worst does happen and your dog does go missing - remember, from April 2016 it became a legal requirement for all dogs to be microchipped anyway!
  • If your pet is severely noise phobic, seek help from an experienced animal behaviourist.

 

DON’T:

  • Don’t EVER take your dog to a firework display! Even if your dog does not bark or whimper, don't assume they are happy.  Look out for other body language that could signal anxiousness (excessive yawning, panting etc)
  • Don’t tie your dog up outside while fireworks are being let off. 
  • Don’t assume your garden is escape proof.  If your dog needs to go out keep him on a lead just in case – I’ve heard of stories where people have assumed their garden is escape proof only for their dog to escape on Fireworks Night due to their heightened stress levels.
  • Don’t leave your dog on his own or in a separate room from you if you are aware of his Firework phobia.
  • Don’t try to force your dog to face their fears - they’ll just become more frightened.
  • Don’t change routines more than necessary, as this can be stressful for some dogs.
  • Don’t try and tempt them out of hiding (unless they have found somewhere unsafe), as this may cause more stress.
  • Don’t tell your dog off - EVER! This will only make your dog more distressed.
  • Don’t forget your other pets, especially those that live outside:
  • DO - partly cover cages, pens and aviaries with blankets so that one area is well sound-proofed and make sure that your pet is still able to look out.
  • DO - provide lots of extra bedding so your pet has something to burrow in.

 

So please start thinking ahead to Halloween and refer back to this information if needed before Bonfire Night, Christmas and New Year!  Personally, I wish I had the power to ban fireworks, but as I am not that powerful, I’m hoping this information will be the next best thing in helping you to help your dogs during the firework season!  Please share and spread the word on how we can help our canine companions feel more safe and less stressed by fireworks and scary costumes!