If a dog hasn’t been safely exposed to many different experiences, including loud noises during 3 to 14 weeks of age as he gets older he may not be able to cope with frightening sounds like fireworks or loud noises.
Some breeds of dogs are more sensitive to noises than others. Dogs that are generally anxious or unhappy will also find it much harder to cope. If Left alone, noise phobias tend to get worse over time and you need to help your dog.
The noise level is supposed to be controlled by recent law, there is little that can be done about the fireworks themselves, so we have to learn to live with them.
How can you help your dog if he’s frightened of fireworks?
- If your dog has only recently developed a sensitivity to fireworks or noises try to act as if there is nothing to be scared of.
- Distract him by spending time with him going through some of his regular training; sit, down, stay, or even some games or tricks, always praise him for responding positively. It will help distract him
- If your dog has a serious or long-standing phobia, give him attention if he requires it – he’ll be too scared for this to act as a reward, so it won’t encourage the unwanted behaviour and instead he will benefit from the comfort that this gives him.
- Try to find out what helps him to cope and be sure to let him do this – e.g. letting him hide under the table. Don’t try to coax him out, if this is where he feels safest – he’ll come out when he’s ready. When he does give him plenty of praise.
- At very noisy times around Bonfire night, provide your dog with a safe hiding place (a cardboard box would do) in his favourite room of the house, close the curtains and turn up the volume of your television or radio to drown out the firework noises. Remember not to shut anyinternal doors, as he may feel trapped and panic.
- Don’t leave your dog alone in the house, as he may panic and injure himself.
- A stodgy high-carbohydrate meal (e.g. with well-cooked rice or mashed potato) in the late afternoon may help make your dog feel more sleepy and calm during the evening.
- Make sure he goes out to toilet before it gets dark and the fireworks start.
- Ask your vet about DAP – Dog Appeasing Pheromone. This is a scent which you can’t smell that comes in a plug-in diffuser, spray or collar that can comfort your dog and help him cope with his fears.
- For dogs with very severe fears on the worst nights, your vet may be able to prescribe Diazepam. This will not stop your dog from being scared on the night, but causes short term memory loss, so that he won’t remember being scared in the morning. This stops the cycle of fear becoming worse, but it is important to do some training to lessen the problem for the next time. Other sedative drugs tend to make the problem worse.
- Ask your vet about other drugs – there are now several drugs available which reduce anxiety levels for dogs. They tend to take some days to have an effect so they cannot be used for short periods but they are often useful to help in the training programme outlined below.
- Ask your vet about homeopathic remedies that may help – such as Bach Rescue Remedy.
- If fear or phobic reactions are severe or cause aggression in your dog, you must see a behaviourist or a vet, who may want to put your dog on a supervised or tailored desensitisation programme – but this will only work if you start long before the firework season begins. Remember that medical conditions can also cause phobias in your dog, so if he displays signs of phobia, it may be best to get him checked out anyway.
If your dog is healthy and his problem isn’t too severe, you can try the following yourself (ask your vet for DAP or other drugs as this will make the following programme more effective). Please remember that incorrect use of this technique may make the problem worse, so proceed with caution. Try to start this programme at least a month before fireworks are expected:
- Another way you can help your dog overcome his fear of fireworks noise is to associate firework noise with something nice for your dog, so that he gets excited and happy, rather than scared whenever he hears it. You can do this by playing firework noise quietly and then gradually louder, whenever he is enjoying himself.
- Obtain a sound recording of fireworks noises. Several companies produce these. If you have any problems finding one, try the following:
- Sound Therapy 4 Pets Ltd – 01244 371 473 soundtherapy4pets.com