💥💥Bonfire night is nearly here💥💥
According to a recent study of 1225 dogs, 52% of dogs are said to be afraid of fireworks. 45% of the dogs studied had developed this fear within their first 12 months of life.
In fact, this study found that being proactive with training during our puppies sensitive period for socialisation (3-17 weeks) had the best results!
Some more outcomes that may surprise you are that over 40% of these dogs took longer than 30 minutes to recover from a single firework, and some of them took 3 days or more!
This, to me, shows that we need a more proactive approach to dealing with loud noises and standard socialisation alone isn't getting us the desired results, so lets look at how we can help our dogs:
First off, we can do what is called counter-conditioning and desensitisation. To do this, we need a fireworks track to be played quietly in background (ideally from the window/doors area of our home) while our dogs enjoy a really tasty treat, like a kong or bone. Gradually, we can increase the volume of the track. When doing this, please take note of your dogs body language, ear flicks and side glances could be signs that they are uncomfortable with these noises and that we have increased the volume too fast.
You can find firework tracks on both DogsTrust website and Victoria Stillwells website.
The Noise Box
The noise box is an awesome tool we can use to desensitise our dogs to loud noises.
1. First, you will need a box or bucket that your dog can eat treats from.
2. Feed them some treats from the empty box.
3. Place a novel item, such as plastic bottle, glass bottle, carton or another item from your recycling bin into the box
4. Place more treats into the box
5. Continue to add more novel items to the box, your dog will have to move these items, creating noise, to find the treats.
The key to this is NOVELTY. This means that we always want to vary the items we are putting into the box so that there is always new noises and aren't just desensitising them to 1 or 2 noises.
For me, DMT is the winner when leading up to bonfire night! When there is any novel noise, such as a car door slamming, a loud motorbike, a knock on the neighbours door or when you accidentally knock all the pots and pans out of the cupboard, simply and immediately say "niceeeee" and then feed your dog a tasty treat.
If you have done this enough leading up to bonfire night, you can do this when the fireworks start going off too. Hopefully, your dog will start to associate these loud bangs with good stuff happening, and ipso facto fireworks are good things! Cool, right?!
Bonfire night itself may become tricky, if your dog is still terrified of fireworks, then you will need to help them cope for the night. Keeping your dog safe and protecting their stress levels is paramount to their health and wellbeing, so here is my guide on how we can do this.
Calmness is key
During the day, you want to keep your dog as calm as possible, if they are highly aroused around the time leading up to the event, this may add to their stress on the
night. This is because the Cortisol (stress hormone) that is released when the body is put under stress (whether chasing a ball for a long time or reacting to other dogs) remains in a dogs system on an average of 3 days. A higher level of cortisol means that it will take less for them to have a reaction. Calming activities such as kongs, snuffle mats and calming games can help to keep your dog's arousal level low during this time, this will mean when the time comes, they are less likely to overspill their bucket and react to the loud noises and lights. DO NOT DO A HIGH ENERGY WALK!!! Brain games, calming games, training and calm walks before the fireworks start are the key!
Preparing your home
This is just as important as preparing your dog. Protecting the room by pulling down blinds and introducing some loud music to drown out some noise will help to calm the environment down.
Let them have their safe space
If your dog has their own coping mechanism during stressful times, such as going in a crate or finding a safe place to hide, make sure they are comfortable and leave them to cope. Whatever they are doing at that moment is helping their stress levels, try not to take them out of their safe space. We all know that hugging our pets makes us feel better but nine times out of ten will not be helping them in that particular moment, especially if you have removed them out of their safe space to give them a reassuring hug. Although if your dogs coping mechanism may be staying close to you then let them be close.
Keep them inside
You might feel that if you take your dog out to face their fears it may help, please don't do this, a dog should not be taken for a walk during firework night as there is a lot going on and it is very risky. Even for the most confident dog, bonfire night is a night full of unique experiences for them and you may be pushing them too far
beyond their comfort zone, I recommend keeping them indoors and playing lovely calming activities to keep their stress levels low, one night without their daily walk won't hurt.
Speaking to your vet about your dogs fear of fireworks can really help. Vets can prescribe certain drugs that can allow your dogs to cope better with whats going on around them. These can also help them recover much quicker than without the drugs.
So there it is, my guide to bonfire night and helping our dogs with fireworks!
We hope that everyone has a safe and enjoyable bonfire night, spends some quality time with their pups and everyone remains safe and happy!
Not a one-way road—Severity, progression and prevention of firework fears in dogs - https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0218150
Reactive Dogs and Exercise - Linda Cooper
Enrichment Involving Human Interaction Saves Lives - Regina Willen