1. Predict the problem
When you compare your dog’s fear of fireworks with other noises that may worry it, fireworks are different. Fireworks are one of the more predictable of noises.
- They almost always occur after dark
- They often occur at very specific times (e.g. 6pm, 8pm, 10pm and Midnight)
- If you live near an entertainment venue, you are likely to know by experience when they occur
Unlike thunderstorms, it’s not very common for your dog to see fireworks, there is rarely any smell involved and the dogs don’t ‘feel’ the fireworks as they would by experiencing the rain and wind of a thunderstorm or the vision of a hot-air balloon.
So that means:
- Look in your local newspaper that may tell you when fireworks occur
- Become familiar with local entertainment venues and learn when they initiate fireworks
- And then – take action BEFORE the event you have predicted occurs.
2. Be home with your dog
The worst problem is when your dog experiences a firework fear when you are away from him or her. Your dog will be much more fearful if left alone during a firework event. So, if you have predicted that a firework event will occur, be home with your dog at that time. For New Year’s Eve in particular, you may need to make that hard decision – should you go out to celebrate? You may come home to a disaster. So, it may be better to stay home on New Year’s Eve.
3. Remove your dog from your garden
Dogs left outside during a firework event are much more seriously affected than dogs which are inside. Dogs left outside will attempt to escape form your yard or to ‘inscape’ into your home. While the damage to your fences and your home can be extreme and costly it’s the damage your dog could do to itself that is dangerous – or deadly. The best location for your dog is the most sound-proof area of your home.
4. Place your dog in a sound-proof Den
You know fireworks are noisy and you know it’s the noise that scares your dog. So an obvious move is to move your dog to a sound-proof room inside your home. This is called a Den. Go from room to room to find the most sound-proof location but you are likely to find that:-
- Brick walls are much better at sound proofing than timber walls and block walls (e.g. Besser block walls) are often the best
- Walk in wardrobes are often very sound proof because they are surrounded by many walls and the texture of your clothes (and the smell of your shoes) may help your dog to be comforted
- Stop firework noise entering through windows of your Den by covering the windows with heavy curtains.
- Foam rubber cut to fit the window cavity is ideal
- Cut an old mattress to fit or visit your local foam rubber shop with the dimensions of the window and they will cut the foam rubber to fit.
- If needed build a sound-proof Den using sound proof wall cladding. You local hardware store will help with that
5. Use masking noise
Another way of reducing the noise is to mask it by adding other noises to the Den your dog is in. This is the same principle as the music used in shopping centres to mask the noise of activity in the shop. Play a radio in the Den or better still, use Dr Cam Day’s Frightful Noises Audio CD to teach your dog not to react to fireworks and then use the firework tracks on the Audio CD to mask the real firework noise. (More details below).
6. Use medication where needed
If your dog is seriously affected, your vet will be able to prescribe medication that may help. Generally speaking a ‘when you need it’ occasional use medication can be helpful but ..
- Ask your vet to avoid heavy tranquilisers if possible – some tranquilisers can make dogs more sensitive to noises
- You MUST test the dose needed BEFORE the event to know:-
- what dose is effective
- how long it takes to work and
- how long it lasts for
That will allow you to use the right dose long enough before the fireworks to help your dog. Some pet owners find that homeopathic preparations are useful.
Dog pheromones (called the Dog Appeasing Pheromone) can be very effective for calming noise-fearful dogs with up to 70% effectiveness. These will not work for dogs that are outside but they combine very well when placed inside a sound-proof Den.
The ADAPTIL range of products contains these pheromones.
8. Practice calming strategies
When your dog is panicking, it needs to develop a calm demeanour. Thus, your job is to do whatever you need to do to create calmness. Sometimes that DOES mean giving the dog comfort and attention when it’s panicking. Many advise that ‘praising the fear’ by giving a panicking dog attention rewards the panic.
This is nonsense. A panicking dog is not able to learn. He or she is far too ‘emotional’ to consider you may be rewarding its fear.
You may be able to calm your dog by:-
- Using calming massage concentrating on the major muscle groups such as the cheek, forehead, neck and shoulder muscles
- Using firm finger-tip massage doing a circle about the size of a 50 cent piece. Use your thumb and index finger in tandem
- Using a novel device called a Calming Cap in combination with a Gentle Leader – these two devices used together can have a significant calming effect on dogs but your dog needs to be trained to happily accept both before the firework event
- Wrapping your dog’s body tightly with a towel
- Giving your dog a firm hug around his or her chest
- And showing your dog YOU are calm by:
- cradling your dog’s face in your hands as if it was a football and make it look at you
- then blinking your eyes as if you were falling asleep
- show a soft smile (and certainly not a worried expression)
- and whispering to your dog is the softest whisper you can manage.
9. Teach your dog to tolerate firework noise
Desensitising your dog to the noise of fireworks is often possible using quality recordings of fireworks. These recordings are incorporated into the Frightful Noises Audio CD.
There are more details on this process here but the steps are:-
- Determine if the recording, when played through your audio equipment, does alarm your dog but do this once only.
- If so, expose your dog to a level of the recording that causes NO fear and repeat that daily for a few days.
- Then incrementally increase the volume of the noise daily while ensuring your dog remains calm and content.
- Once successful, the same noise tracks can be used mask the noise of fireworks as detailed in section 5 above.
- If the recording played through your audio equipment does NOT alarm your dog, then you can immediately move to using this as a masking (see section 5).
By Dr Cam Day, Pet Behaviour Veterinarian