Until relatively recently, Bonfire Night on the 5th November was very much a one-off event – so even owners with dogs who were afraid of fireworks could normally work around it. However, in recent years, Bonfire Night has given way to Fireworks Season, with pyrotechnic displays spread out over a week or more at the end of October (Halloween) and the first couple of weeks in November. As a result, early and effective preparation has never been more important – especially with modern fireworks being so much more impressive and louder than the modest Roman candles, catherine wheels and occasional rocket of previous decades.
Why do so many dogs dislike fireworks?
There are three major reasons that are thought to be the keys to understanding why most dogs find fireworks stressful:
- Dogs’ hearing is much more acute than ours. As a result, the firework sounds are probably much louder and harder for them to ignore.
- Dogs’ eyes work much better in low light levels than ours; however, that also means they are more easily dazzled by very bright flashes in the dark.
- Because most dogs only ever encounter fireworks rarely (once or twice a year, perhaps) they don’t have a chance to get used to them – we know that the display (assuming the organisers have done their job, anyway…) is safe, but dogs don’t. They learn from experience, and without regular repetition find it harder to learn how to cope with strange events and stimuli.
So, what are the key points to help them to cope?
Prepare, prepare, prepare! If you put off doing anything until the rockets are exploding, it’s too late to do very much. The earlier you start, the better – and in fact, the best treatment (sound desensitisation therapy) should be started at least six months before the expected fireworks dates.
So, an ideal timetable for preparing for fireworks would include:
- Months before – start Noise Desensitisation Therapy. This involves using a CD or playlist of firework-type noises played at very low volumes and very, very gradually increased over weeks and months so the dog learns that the bangs, whizzes and crashes are normal and nothing to be afraid of.
- Five or six weeks before – start using Adaptil. This is a pheromone product that is a purified form of the scent a bitch releases to reassure her puppies. It is a very effective calming and de-stressing method, but needs to be used as early as possible for the best effect.
- Two weeks before – consider using Zylkene. This is a milk-based product (containing a natural protein called casein) that is metabolised in the dog’s body into a Valium-like substance that promotes calmness and de-stress. Although it works within an hour, for best results, start using it a couple of weeks before the stressful event.
- One week before – prepare a safe nest for them to hide away in.
- The week before – if your dog is particularly terrified, talk to one of our vets about medication. There are some very potent human medications that can be used on prescription to help them relax and sleep through the night. However, we no longer recommend the use of normal sedatives, as these often make the dog more afraid the next year.
- On the night – don’t make things worse! Keep windows and curtains shut if possible to keep the sound and light at bay. Don’t make a huge fuss of your dog, or get upset or worried yourself – it’ll just reinforce their fear. Instead, allow them to hide away, give them low-key reassurance if necessary, and try to act absolutely normally.
If you’re concerned that your dog doesn’t cope well with fireworks, come in and see one of our vets for specific advice as early as possible.