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Are you ready for the Fireworks...

Question: My dog gets extremely distressed by fireworks. Can you offer any tips to help calm him down over the next few weeks?

Answer: Every year thousands of pets suffer acute anxiety symptoms over a period which now extends from before Guy Fawkes’ night to the New Year from a ‘celebration’ that for many pet owners is a nightmare.

Although some dogs will require behavioural modification classes to desensitise them to noise phobias, here are some practical measures to help you and your dog get through this time.

  • Prepare a refuge area for your dog. This could be somewhere he likes to hide such as a cupboard under the stairs, the bathroom or behind the sofa. Heavy curtains, blacked out rooms and dog crates covered with lots of blankets/foam will help make the refuge more soundproof and impervious to flashing lights. Provide a lot of blankets and mats within the area so your dog can ‘dig to ground’ for safety as it would in the wild.
  • Plug in a pheromone diffuser 2 weeks before the fireworks start in the room that your dog uses to relax and as near to the refuge as possible. Leave the diffuser plugged in for one week after the ‘season’ ends.
  • Ensure that your dog cannot bolt and escape from this secure and safe environment.
  • Put on some music, if your dog can tolerate it, with a lot of constant drumbeats. It does not have to be loud as long as there is a constant distracting beat to the music. If there is sufficient time, desensitisation with appropriate ‘Sound’ CD’s is well worth trying.
  • Contrary to your instincts, do not give your dog attention or reassurance when it is fearful or anxious as this will reinforce the behaviour and reward the anxiety. Never punish your dog when he is scared, as this will only confirm that there was something to be scared of. Ignore any fearful behaviour that is purely related to the noises.
  • It is better to keep your dog company so that he doesn’t feel abandoned. Provide him with toys and things to do. Try to engage him in some form of active game. If you have to go out, then leave a recently worn item of clothing to provide some comfort.
  • Walk your dog early and then keep him inside after darkness falls in the blacked-out room with the refuge.
  • You could try feeding a large stodgy carbohydrate rich meal with a vitamin B supplement about 2 hours ahead of any expected ‘events’, provided you know your dog’s bowels will not be aggravated by such a meal.
  • If you know a dog that is not scared by the noises and gets on with your own dog then keeping the two together during the evenings may help. Playing with the non-fearful dog if your own dog becomes scared may help to encourage your dog that all is not so bad after all.
  • Medication may be useful in some cases, under veterinary supervision, however traditional chemical sedatives are always used as a last resort, as we hate to see pets staggering around in a highly unresponsive state, plus there is always the risk of the occasional adverse reaction. Tranquillisers can be helpful and a few non-sedating and non-chemical natural products on the market have also proven to be of value.