Reducing fireworks night stress

Just like for us humans, stress can be a big problem for dogs. Too much stress or anxiety can quickly lead to health problems and behavioural issues and one thing that stresses a lot of dogs more than anything is fireworks.

In fact, according to the 2018 National Dog Happiness Survey, fireworks are the third biggest stress trigger for dogs (only coming after moving house and welcoming a new family member) and for many of us, November 5th has become much more a time of worry than of celebration.

But with a little preparation and knowhow, you can help to significantly reduce your dog’s stress levels and could even make fireworks-phobia a thing of the past.

1. Desensitisation

By getting your dog accustomed to the trigger (in this case the sound of fireworks) you can help to slowly reduce the fear factor associated with it.

You can start by finding a long clip of fireworks sounds on youtube (here’s a good one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AINzMizjDvw but there are plenty more to choose from) and playing it on while getting on with your normal daily routine. Larger speakers with more bass are better for a more authentic sound. It’s important that you start at a very low volume and that you give no indication to your dog that anything is unusual, so just carry on as normal.

Naturally, if your dog shows any signs of distress, you should reduce the volume immediately or stop the noise altogether but provided your dog is comfortable with the background noise, you can continue with the exposure for periods of 30-60 minutes or so, day by day slowly increasing the volume until your dog is comfortable with fireworks sounds at a relatively high volume. The process can take weeks or even months to do properly so patience is the key.

To increase the effect further you can even play the sounds during feeding time or play time so that they get associated with good feelings rather than stress.

2. Preparation

There are various things you can do for your home and your dog to make fireworks night less stressful but the last thing you want to do is start rushing around making changes once the fireworks begin as that will just reinforce the idea that something is very wrong. Whatever measures you are going to take, do them well in advance of when you expect the first firework to go off.

Make sure your dog is well exercised on November 5th to burn off any additional energy and help them to rest in the evening.

Many dogs attempt to run away when faced with severe stress so ensure your outside doors are firmly closed and that your house is secure.

Some dogs also look for a place to hide so it’s a good idea to provide a bed in a secluded part of the house should they require it.

3. Minimising the trigger

To reduce the sound coming in from outside, make sure your windows are closed tight. You can also use the TV or radio to help drown out some of the noise. The flashes of fireworks can also cause distress so close your blinds or curtains and consider adding additional layers of fabric if necessary.

4. Stress relief products

There are all sorts of products that can help to reduce a dog’s stress levels:

  • Stress vests or anxiety jackets act in a similar way to swaddles for babies and can help dogs feel safe and secure.
    • There are a number of stress reducing supplements, foods and treats on the market, typically containing calming ingredients like vitamin B1, tryptophan, chamomile and ginger.
    • Pheromones can be very effective at calming some stressed dogs. They can be released with diffusors or special collars.

5. Keep YOUR cool

Dogs are incredibly sensitive to behavioural cues from their owners so it’s very important that you act and ideally feel calm and collected when the fireworks begin. It’s also imperative that you resist the temptation to soothe your dog too much as that will just reinforce the idea that there is something to be afraid of. The best approach is just to carry as normally as possible.

So don’t stress this November 5th. By getting prepared and by staying cool, you’ll be surprised how much easier you can make things for both you and your dog.

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