New Year’s Eve is a time of celebration with millions of people across the country enjoying the many fireworks displays that will light up our skies.
Unfortunately for the hundreds and thousands of dogs that will be exposed to fireworks this Sunday evening, this is the most terrorising evening of the year that will result in many pets ending up in Vet emergency centres, animal shelters, or killed on our roads or in accidents as they try to escape the frightening sights and sounds of the fireworks.
A dog’s acute hearing makes him more sensitive to the sounds of fireworks than humans and, as they are sudden and occur infrequently, they can easily turn a normally placid pooch into a trembling ball of anxiety.
Desensitising your dog to fireworks and thunderstorms as a puppy is the best way to ensure your dog will be unfazed by these noises later in life. However, this is not a short term fix and takes many weeks or months to do correctly. To do this you will need a CD or downloadable fireworks and thunderstorms tracks that you start off very low and over a long period of time gradually increase the noise level with no reaction, whilst giving them a reward or praise when they are being relaxed and not reacting. This helps create a positive association with these noises and can make them desensitised to these noises in the future.
Fortunately, there are some immediate measures you can put in place to help your dog feel a little less anxious and keep them safe for this New Year’s Eve.
- Secure in a crate or room inside the house
If your dog is crate trained then securing him in his crate with a chew toy or bone to occupy his time.
If he’s not crate-trained, place his bed in a bedroom during the fireworks.
- If outside – keep them safe
If you definitely can’t leave them in the house (why not?) then make sure they have a protective kennel or area in the shed with a bed or blanket to keep them comfortable, warm and feeling protected.
If you don’t have a shed place their kennel close to the backdoor, under shelter and give them a bone or chew toy to keep them occupied.
Vet emergency rooms often see an influx of dogs with road injuries as they escape in fear from their house or yard so ensure you escape proof your yard – you’ll be amazed how high a wall a scared dog can scale when trying to flee, so inward slanting lattice to help stop them getting over fences is a good option and remove any chairs or other objects they could use as leverage.
- Sound-proof the area
Close all windows to the room they are being kept in, draw the curtains or blinds and play the radio or TV in that room and others in the house to create a lot of white noise. Be mindful of what TV station you are leaving on of course as you don’t want it to be the fireworks telecast!
- Create a positive association
If you are at home with your dog during fireworks then it is important to remain calm and relaxed. We need to show them there is no danger, as they will be looking to us for reassurance.
However, we don’t want to reinforce anxiety and their behaviour by making a fuss over them, instead play a game of ball or tug if they love that, give them their favourite toy or a bone – something that creates a good/happy association that they can enjoy whilst the noise is going on around them’, Shannon warns.
This is the same when desensitising a puppy to the sound of fireworks and thunderstorms so start this process now if you have been given a puppy for Christmas.
- Pheromone based products and herbs
Pheromone based collars, sprays and adapters you plug in the wall may also help some dogs with anxiety during the fireworks. Calming herb like chamomile, passion flower or valerian can also help, but you need to give these supplements time to kick-in so it will be too late for this new year. Rescue Remedy drops in their water may also help keep dogs prone to anxiety and phobias.
Some dogs respond well to the use of a thundershirt, particularly if it is also combined with the calming herbs or pheromone products. The theory behind these is that they wrap tightly around them like they are being held or being cuddled, which can help reassure them.
Many people consider dogs an important part of the family so it is important we don’t take the “she’ll be right mate” attitude when it comes to dogs and fireworks as the results can be deadly. It doesn’t take much effort on our behalf to help them feel safe and secure but can make such a big difference to their mental health and physical wellbeing. It is also a good time to consider taking out Pet Insurance to ensure you are covered for any accidents that may occur.
About the Author: Lara Shannon is co-Host of Pooches at Play and has completed a Certificate III in Dog Behaviour & Training with the National Dog Trainers Federation. Lara also runs her own dog walking, dog minding and dog training business in Melbourne’s Bayside area.