The time is upon us! Diwali is tonight and Bonfire Night is happening tomorrow. If you have a dog who fears fireworks, it is a bit too late to work on desensitising and counter conditioning their fear to a more positive outlook. Some dogs, such as collies, are inherently noise sensitive and no amount of training will resolve their phobia. So, what can you do now to help them through this time of the year?
Before The Night:
Take your dogs out for a nice long walk during daylight hours, but don't panic if you can't a day off from walking isn't going to hurt them and you can keep them busy with alternatives.
Have their meal ready in a selection of puzzle feeders and plenty of chew toys to occupy their evening.
Create and nice cosy space for your dog to retreat to if they wish. You can make a nest of blankets or cover their crate. Thick blankets and pillows and duvets can muffle the noise and make a crate or den space more soundproof.
There are a selection of medications that could be used on fearful dogs to keep them calm, consult your vet to learn more.
Some people swear by thunder shirts or a body wrap, personally I've never had anything like this work on my dogs but that not to say it might not work for you.
On The Night:
Stagger the selection of chew toys and feeders over the evening so your dog is occupied during the night and at the same time having the sounds paired with yummy and fun things.
Play with your dog! Turn that nervous energy around and make it fun energy! Get your dog enjoying some chase or tug in the house before they get passed the point of being too scared.
Try and time toilet breaks to moments when the fireworks aren't so prevalent or paused.
If your dog is scared and looking to you for reassurance, you CAN comfort them.
If the noise on the night is catching you dogs attention, have the TV or radio on a little louder to drown the sounds. Classic FM are having a fireworks programme playing soothing music to help calm any dogs worried about fireworks. Check out the details here:
Consider making a picnic, and taking a car ride up to the mountains, or even a service station, where you won’t have the fireworks and hang out with a book or watch movies or go for night sniffs until the late night when the fireworks are done. If you are able, this is my favourite option that is the least stressful for everyone.
For many owners, this is their dog's first Bonfire night and so are either unsure or have yet to test their desensitising protocol on the real thing. The point is to not make a big deal out the situation; dogs can sense when you are worried and tense and try not to make too many changes to their routine. Carry on as if it is the usual fireworks sounds practice you've been doing; pair positive things, like the puzzle feeders and chews to the noise and let it become just another background sound.
HAVE FUN! It really is a simple thing but make that nervous energy you and your dog might be feeling and redirect it to play. Channelling that arousal will help prevent it spilling over into fear.