Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night as well as Divali and New Years Eve are traditionally fun times for us humans, but for animals it is rather a different story. Not all dogs are frightened by the sights and sounds of fireworks, but for those with nervous, timid, shy or fearful personalities, the period leading up to and around Bonfire night can be the most debilitating and traumatic experience for them.
Fear of fireworks
For some dogs, even the first pop, sight or smell of a firework is enough to send them into a blind panic attack, or an adrenalised frenzy of terror, mindlessly damaging anything in their path in an attempt to escape and seek refuge. This irrational fear of the unknown can even cause dogs to temporarily lose their bladder and bowel control. They can hyperventilate, tremble shake and pant. They may climb into tiny crevices, or try to escape and run away as their survival instinct takes over.
It is a perfectly natural survival instinct for dogs to be afraid of sudden loud noises. However unlike the natural phenomena of thunder and lightening which is preceded by the advanced warning of gradual rumbles and atmospheric pressure changes, fireworks come with no warning. They are closer to the ground and they include the smell of burning gun powder, bright flashes and sudden cracks and booms. Dogs experience the world through their senses of smell, sight and sound, so any events involving fireworks can be a complete sensory overload.
5 Essential Steps To Protect & Care For Your Dog On Bonfire Night
Planning. Good forward preparation is the key to creating the most harmonious and stress free experience for your dog in the lead up to the Bonfire Night Season. By planning in advance to provide the most appropriate environment for your dog, and conditioning them to accept the sights and sounds of fireworks, your dog will learn to accept, perhaps enjoy, or at the very least be less stressed out by the whole experience ensuring that their utmost wellbeing is maintained.
Desensitisation. Condition your dog in advance of firework night to accept the sounds of fireworks. Play a video or CD of recoded sound bites of fireworks with gradually increasing increments of volume. Repeat daily using small sessions of 2-5 minutes per day in duration. It is best to start the process of desensitising weeks or even months in advance. Ideally done for a few moments just before showing affection, playing a game, going for a walk or mealtime. As a result the controlled exposure to the sound is immediately followed by a pleasurable experience. This will gradually normalise the experience. So that come bonfire night, your dog will be more accepting and less reactive to the stimuli.
Accommodation & Environment. Dogs instinctively love to have their own small, cosy, den like space, their own home situated within your home which should be out of direct line of sight from sentry points such as windows or doors. Establish a dedicated safe haven or nest for your dog by providing a small crate with their bedding arranged inside. Cover it over with some heavy fabric. This will create a sense of safety and security for your dog. Their target point to escape to, and also helps to insulate them from sudden noises and sounds.
Calming therapy. There are several natural and homeopathic devices and remedies which can be useful in reducing fear and anxiety responses at a neurological level. Thunder shirts are an elasticated vest, similar to a stretchy t-shirt. These work in much the same way as a baby wrapped in swaddling by providing your dog with a sense of contact to give them comfort and discourage heavy breathing. There are also plug-in D.A.P pheromone generators such as Adaptil. These claim to help reduce anxiety and promote a sense of wellbeing by mimicking the natural maternal dog appeasing pheromone. Therefore providing a reassuring message to prevent or control stress or fear-related behavioural responses. Another option is Bach Rescue Remedy a natural herbal tincture. Owners can add it to drinking water or administer it directly to the tongue. Essential Oils such as lavender, clary sage, and bergamot if sprayed onto bedding can help balance nervous energy. In addition they promote a sense of calmness and wellbeing. Finally, If your dog is particularly nervous or anxious, then speak with your vet. Ask them about natural or herbal sedation therapies such as Nutracalm, Zylkene, Calmex or YuCALM. With any of these interventions, always follow the advice of your vet. Effectiveness can only be achieved if administered well in advance. Otherwise your dog’s adrenaline response will completely override the effectiveness of the therapy. Plan ahead, and be pro-active rather than reactive.
Leadership & Protection. Communication is key to providing your dog with a clear message that you have everything under control, and that they have nothing to worry about. Dogs do not think rationally or understand the reason or intention for anything. Neither do they understand our human language. Hence learning to communicate at the canine level, it is entirely possible to alleviate your dogs fears and phobias. Thereby explaining to them in dog language that you have everything under control and they have nothing to worry about. It is absolutely critical that you don’t reinforce your dogs fears by speaking with them in a reassuring human way. As this will produce the complete opposite effect and actually validate their fears and heighten stress levels. Ideally you should seek tuition and coaching from an expert in canine behaviour and communication. As a professional behavioural therapist, Phillip Gazzard from Angel Dog Training can work together with you as a team from the comfort of your own home to optimise the habitat and environment of your dog. To put in place an effective communication and a desensitisation programme. To ensure that your dog can survive bonfire night and possibly even learn to enjoy such pyrotechnic celebrations.