Firework season is here and although fireworks signify festivity and celebration for humans, our doggy friends frequently suffer at this time of year.
One of the most commonly reported behavioural problems in dogs is noise sensitivity and fireworks are typically the culprit. As very little is known about how these fears are acquired and how they progress, any treatment plans must be individually tailored by a professional to avoid making them worse.
However there are some important DO’S and DON’TS for all pet owners to help our dogs cope at this noisy time of year!
Provide a safe place for the dog to hide; this can be achieved by using a crate with some blankets placed over the top or making a den behind the sofa – get creative!
Cover the windows by pulling blinds or curtains; the light emitted when a firework goes off is thought to be an associative factor in exacerbating a fear or anxiety.
Try and block the sound of the fireworks using white noise (fan) or play music. It has been proven that classical music promotes more relaxed and calm behaviour whereas heavy metal initiates behavioural arousal and agitation, so ensure to select Mozart over Motorhead!
Try pheromone therapy. Dog appeasing pheromone (DAP) provides a synthetic version of the natural chemical signal that is normally released by the mother to help puppies feel calm and reassured. This product is available in a variety of different forms to suit each case and has been proven to be even more effective when used in conjunction with a desensitisation programme. Please ask a member of staff for further details.
BEHAVE NORMALLY! Dogs are masters of observation and will quickly pick up stress signals from their owners when fireworks start. The best advice is to be prepared for fireworks beforehand so when they do occur you do not have to do anything and can simply behave normally. Try and ignore any fearful behaviour where possible.
Punish the dog. It is never acceptable to punish a dog that is showing a noise aversion, this will without a doubt exacerbate the problem.
Make a fuss. For most dogs, receiving attention from the owner when it displays anxious behaviours will actually reinforce their anxieties. It is understandable that this goes against what the owners want to do which is reassure their pet when they are scared. If it is simply impossible to ignore them, the best advice is to encourage a play session or training session rather than cuddling and excessive stroking.
Force the dog to face its fear. Dogs have no control over their fears and feelings and they never “just get over it” if forced to face their fear directly. Doing this may cause the dog to generalise firework fear and end up fearful of going out at night time as darkness is the only predictor that fireworks may happen. There are options for treating even severe sound sensitivities however is should be noted that the programmes require unwavering commitment, dedication and patience from the owner. Also it is much easier to resolve a noise aversion the sooner it is noticed so if you suspect your dog may need some help, please enquire earlier rather than later.
Prevention is better than cure with any anxiety so exposing puppies to as many noises and environments as possible in a positive, non-intensive manner can help reduce the likelihood of problems developing at a later date.