If you own a dog with noise phobias, as I do, you might dread October. Every year it feels like you don’t quite know when fireworks season will start nor end. Usually, it begins sometime in early-mid October, goes past Bonfire night in November and stretches into January.
Having owned working gundogs and other breeds at various stages in life, sometimes one young, one old (and deaf), until three years ago when Danny became a part of our family, I’d never owned a dog with a fear of fireworks. He spots the flashes of colour in the sky and waits for the bangs.
It’s been a learning curve trying to find ways to help keep him relaxed during fireworks season but with the help of Lintbells’ veterinary nurse, Siobhan Griffin, we have compiled some of the best ways to calm a dog during fireworks season.
1. Learn about local events and plan accordingly
One of the biggest lessons we’ve learnt at home is that preparation is key.
We feed our dogs early so we can walk them earlier than usual, it’s like a military operation really. We get done, we get home, we close the windows, we draw the blinds and close the curtains and try to learn as much as we can about local events from neighbours, newspapers and social media so we know when to expect fireworks events.
Siobhan shares her advice on what to do to mask the sounds of fireworks to help keep a dog calm and somewhat oblivious to what’s going on outside and she makes a good point about keeping our own behaviour in check too.
“TV or Radio can be a good way to mask the noise of fireworks and distract them.
"Also, try not to fuss over your dog too much as this can make them worse instead of taking their attention away from the fireworks – similarly distracting with treats won’t work if they are too anxious to eat. It’s best to feed your dog during the day and avoid food in the evening to avoid them potentially bringing it back up.”
2. Create a calm space at home for your dog
Fireworks going off throughout the winter season often makes this time of year terrifying for the nation’s dogs, with unexpected and loud bangs going off across a number of weeks.
Lintbells have developed a process they call PEEP. This helps dog owners to spot the warning signs of stress and anxiety easier.
It goes like this:
P = Posture – Is your pet hunched, tense, cowering or defensive?
E = Eyes – Are their eyes wide, strained or pupils dilated?
E = Ears – Does it look like their ears are flattened or pinned back?
P = Position – Is your pet turning away, hiding or fleeing/freezing?
Once you can spot your dog’s telltale signs of anxiety, you can then put a plan in place to create a calm space in the home, your dog’s own ‘zen den’.
Danny chose his own zen den in our home. When he first moved in, he gravitated to a small bedroom upstairs and whenever he is stressed (or knows he’s about to be discovered as the latest bin raider), he runs to it, so we now fill the room with noise, a TV or radio and have his favourite things ready and waiting.
Siobhan shares these top tips for creating a zen den for dogs to retreat to.
“Leaving an old jumper or their favourite toy in there can be comforting by providing a familiar scent. Make sure to shut all doors, windows and curtains and keep the radio or TV on for distracting noise.
“Acting calm and relaxed yourself in the house will also help your dog keep their cool – by preparing as best you can by researching local fireworks displays or checking in with neighbours in case they plan on having a party, you can make sure you have measures in place to limit the damage as much as possible.”
3. Prepare with the help of naturally calming supplements
Over the years, we’ve tried various supplements to give Danny a natural feeling of calm. We’ve also tried sound therapy too to help him feel safe and concealed from the loud noises. We begin the process a few weeks in advance and continue until January.
Siobhan tells us why supplements are worth considering and why (and how) certain natural ingredients work to create a relaxed, calm feeling, especially during fireworks.
“Complete calming nutritional supplements are a great way to support your dog’s natural brain processes, to help them feel happy and more relaxed in potentially distressing situations, without artificially sedating.
“Lemon Balm works on GABA levels to make your dog feel more relaxed, soothing stress and encouraging calm behaviour. L-Theanine offers natural calming properties that support the production of calming compounds such as serotonin. It also supports the production of dopamine to maintain levels of hormones responsible for happiness.
“B vitamins support healthy nerves and brain function, reducing excitability and improving concentration. Our special blend of natural fish protein hydrolysate supports your dog’s brain, helping calming signals find the right spot. It also supports GABA and dopamine levels for a ‘feel good’ effect. Our results show a good effect after just a few days, however it can take up to 3 to 6 weeks to see the full benefits. YuCALM Dog is now also available in a tasty ONE-A-DAY bite.”