FIREWORK FEAR - CREATING FEEL-GOOD STARTS HERE
It's not far off that time of year again. If you have a dog who struggles with noise, they are very likely to be disturbed by fireworks and the sooner you can get started on helping them cope with loud noises, the better.
FEAR OF NOISES AND ANXIETY
Firework fear is rarely an isolated anxiety - dogs who are noise reactive tend to be sensitive souls in other ways as well. Helping your dog learn to feel calm in stressful situations goes a long way to dealing with firework fear. Teaching her to love sniffing activities will help - sniffing lowers the pulse rate and helps dogs calm, so using Sniff Trails in the house and garden on a daily basis is a good start to creating a calmer dog.
Chewing on anything that appeals to your dog can be another way to soothe her - but you need to start early. Having a daily chew, such as a healthy dried rabbit or goat ear can be a high spot of many dogs' days. Chewing and licking both have a soothing effect on the brain, flooding the body with calming chemicals and helping to create a generally more relaxed dog.
There are many apps that you can download with fireworks and loud noises on them. I read once that the sounds replicated on our devices don't mirror the true sounds of fireworks, even when turned up really loudly, which may be why some people don't have the success they hope for when they use these apps to desensitise their dogs. I suspect, though, that people don't always realise that they need to start with a really low volume and that it's important not to raise the volume too quickly. As with all things Dog: going slowly pays off.
When you're playing the noises, your dog shouldn't react at all, so you need to start really quietly,. It's a good idea to have your dog on her favourite bed in another room, with a stuffed kong or chew so that she has feel-good associations with the noises.
The other thing that can't be replicated is the smell of cordite in the air from fireworks, which may be one reason why some dogs struggle, even if they've been aurally desensitised. Laying Sniff Trails inside the house can help a little bit, or using essential oil diffusers (being careful to select oils that your dog likes) from late afternoon for 2 weeks up to November the 5th. Starting as early as possible creates positive associations for your dog and lays down deeply grooved neural pathways in her brain so that she is less likely to be concerned about the sounds and smells associated with fireworks.
Pet Remedy can be very successful and is available in most pet stores. It doesn't work as well if you just use it on the night. Like many useful products, you need to gradually get your dog used to it during quiet, restful times for it to have the best effect. If you only use it on the night, the fireworks may feel so bad that you can never use it again because it has 'toxic' associations in the dog's brain with the overwhelming experience of fireworks.
Essential oils can also help calm a dog but it's important that you introduce them during restful times in the same way as you would Pet Remedy. With both these products, it's a good idea to put a small amount on a thin strip of kitchen roll and hold it out to your dog (about 5 cm from her nose) to see how she reacts to it. If she shows interest, then it may have a calming effect on her. If she moves away from it, then it will probably be less effective or she may be indicating that she doesn't like it at all.
Oils can be overwhelming to dogs and we have recently had one who responded dramatically to Pet Remedy. He really didn't like it and wouldn't go near his crate for days after it was sprayed on his bedding, so be sure that tyour dog is comfortable with the oils.
Calming essential oils are:
Test each one first to see if your dog is comfortable with the smell before using it in a diffuser or putting a couple of drops onto a cotton cloth and putting it near your dog's bedding. Always dilute oils in a diffuser and never put them directly on your dog's skin or fur.
Thundershirts or a Bodywrap (Mekuti - online) can help anxious dogs. Again, these need to be familiar and used for at least a fortnight before Bonfire night so that your dog is used to them and so that you know she feels comfortable in them - some dogs really don't like being constrained, while others find it soothing.
Dorwest's Firework combination is a blend of skullcap and valerian and we've had many owners say that their dog has responded very well to them. Again, buy them now to see if they have a calming effect on your dog because the therapeutic properties can be cumulative.
If your dog is severely phobic, contact your vet for support. They may be able to intervene with either nutraceuticals (products which are made of amino acids that have a calming effect) or psych meds such as Sileo. Both can be used short term to help phobic dogs get through firework fear.
USING A DEN
Having a safe place, such as a bed under a table (or even being allowed access to underneath a bed) can be very reassuring for many dogs. If your dog wants to go into a certain room, let her. If she wants to hide under the bed: let her. We can't choose what makes our dogs feel good when they're afraid, and so we need to listen to what they're telling us. Many dogs prefer to be alone when they're frightened, or they may want to hide with us sitting nearby, rather than really being close. Dogs who react like this often don't want any fuss or noise, so they're better left alone.
There will be others who want to sit next to us or on us. If you have a dog who finds this reassuring and whose panting, pulse rate and trembling is soothed by being near you, then it can be helpful for them to have you near. In other words, if your presence makes these signs reduce, then your input is helping her. If any of her stress signals intensify when you talk to her or touch her, then be aware that your input isn't helping her neurological responses, so sit quietly near her and let her lean on you if she needs to.
Drawing curtains and blinds and putting on music can help, as can any form of white noise because it tends to act as a buffer. We have one little cavapoo (Henry the Brave!) who got through last year's fireworks with most appliances on in the house going at full blast! Washing machines and dryers can help as a noise buffer, but only if your dog is comfortable with them. You can also buy white noise machines online which many owners have found helpful.
Every dog is an individual and they all react differently. Because so many of our sensitive dogs are highly attuned to our reactions, we need to be mindful of how we feel and react to the sound of fireworks and thunder. I had to do some serious work on myself because I find it hard not to flinch at loud noises - so desensitisation to loud sounds has been part of my training too!
WE CAN MAKE OUR DOGS REACTIVE!
This was really brought home to me over the summer when I almost managed to make my herd of hounds reactive over our local pigeons. They were flapping about and making a din most days (with some unspeakable acts going on in the cedar tree...) It was irritating me when I was trying to work, and I was getting snippy at them. Every time they flapped (and worse) I reacted. Even if I was just tutting, I was reacting. Within about 2 days of this, Archie was starting to look at me and then bark at them. Fortunately, I realised what was going on so started a quick programme of habituation with them all and no one reacted to rude pigeons after about 4 days. Except me. I did very, very loud inside-my-head swears....
The most important thing that you can do for a dog who has any sort of reactive response to anything is to start working on them as soon as you're aware of the issue and do it gradually, gently, and with masses of feel-good to help them get over it.
And here's to silent fireworks being sold throughout the UK!