By Jon Bowen BVetMed MRCVS DipAS(CABC) director of Sound Therapy 4 Pets Ltd and clinician in charge of the Royal Veterinary College’s behavioural medicine referral service. www.soundtherapy4pets.com
Here in four sentences, are my most important recommendations for dogs that are afraid of fireworks:
To get a quick and accurate assessment of your dog’s fear of fireworks, complete this simple, 5-minute online questionnaire:
Give your dog a hiding place
When you complete the online questionnaire, one of the results you will get is an assessment of your dog’s ability to cope. A score of 8 or above on the “coping behaviour” part of the questionnaire, indicates that it is particularly important that you set up a suitable hiding place for your dog.
Higher scores for “coping behaviour” indicate that your dog is having difficulty dealing with loud noises, but
To prepare a suitable hiding place for your dog, identify somewhere in the house that is:
Typically dogs choose to hide in places like this, such as behind the sofa, under the bed or in cupboards. This gives us an indication of where dogs prefer to hide. If your dog already goes to a place like this, then you can use this as your dog’s hiding place. Otherwise, identify somewhere in the house that fits with these requirements.
Try to set up the hiding place at least a week ahead of any loud noise events that you are expecting.
The hiding place can be made more secure in the following ways:
Make this hiding place available to your dog at all times of day and night, regardless of whether you are at home or not.
Your dog is more likely to use the hiding place if he/she likes to go there at other times.
Here are some ways to encourage your dog to like the new hiding place:
Take your dog to the hiding place each day to give him some food treats or a chew.
If you find your dog is in the hiding place, offer him some treats and praise.
Before the event starts
Some loud noise events are predictable; you may have advanced warning of a thunderstorm or firework display.
During the event
After the event is over
When your dog has come out of hiding after an event has passed, it is tempting to show a lot of attention and encouragement, but it is better to continue to ignore your dog until he/she has fully settled down.
We want to encourage the dog to use the hiding place until he/she feels fully relaxed to come out. If we show a lot of attention too soon after the dog has come out of hiding, this works against what we want the dog to learn. Dogs that have been given mixed messages of this kind are more likely to stay unsettled during a noise event, going in and out of hiding rather than settling down.
Why shouldn’t I soothe my dog?
Our natural response is to try to offer comfort and support when we see that our dog is afraid. This can make us seem worried and vulnerable, and confirms the dog’s fear of what is happening. If we become the main source of security for the dog during times of stress, the dog may have greater difficulty coping when we aren’t around.
It is much better that the dog learns to go somewhere safe to hide, rather than depending on people for comfort. We should act as good role models; remaining calm and relaxed as if nothing bad is happening, and helping to guide the dog to its hiding place. Above all, try to be consistent in the way that you manage and interact with your dog during loud noise events.
Use of tranquillisers
Some owners choose to give their dogs short-term tranquillisers during firework events, and this can be a very effective way to help a dog through a brief period of stress. However, we have to be very careful about which drugs to use, because some are less than ideal. One medication, known as ACP or acepromazine, is commonly prescribed as a sedative for phobic dogs but is not the best choice. This drug causes sedation and immobilises the dog, but has no effect on its fear or anxiety. So the dog may be aware of what is happening but unable to get up or go to its hiding place easily. You can imagine that this can potentially increases the stress that the dog experiences.
It is far better to use a benzodiazepine drug instead, as these work just as quickly and do effectively reduce anxiety without causing sedation. Additionally these drugs tend to suppress the formation of memories of scary events so that the dog will not remember what happened. This can be a very useful way to reduce the impact of phobic events on the dog.
These notes are my copyright. I am also usually happy to have the exact words reproduced on websites, in return for a link, my name, and if permission is asked beforehand. I like to check the websites where it might be used. Email me via this website for permission which will usually be given. Organisations wishing to use them in print should contact me via this website. Copyright © 2007 Celia Haddon. All Rights Reserved.
All normal safety precautions should be taken when dealing with animals. The advice in this section should be taken only at the owner’s own risk. All sick animals should be seen by a vet.
General advice of the kind found in this website is no substitute for an individual consultation with a vet or qualified behaviourist working on a vet’s referral.