It’s that time of year again. The air is getting cooler, nights are getting darker and you’re taking your dog for walks in weather that you might be keen to avoid. (But you know they love it, so you take them anyway.) While things may be different this year due to the global pandemic, there’s one thing that remains the same in the UK. Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes night to some, can be a traumatic experience for canine companions of all shapes and sizes. Some dogs may brush it off without a care in the world, but if you’re reading this article, chances are your furry friend may need a little pick-me-up to get by.
That’s why we’re here to help. According to the RSPCA, around 45% of dogs are scared of fireworks and keeping your perfect pooch calm should be your top priority during the night. The smallest gesture goes a long way for nervous dogs, so we have some top tips to get them through it.
Prepare for Bonfire Night in advance
Preparation is the best thing you can do for your dog. Ultimately, you have no control over the fireworks, loud noises and commotion that occurs on Bonfire Night, but preparation ensures you’re at least one step ahead.
Research local displays
This is key to your initial success. Even with the governmental restrictions due to coronavirus, a lot of local displays will still go ahead. You should research times that the displays start and end, as it is between those times that your dog is most vulnerable. You should also check with your neighbours too as if local displays are cancelled there’s a high chance that garden displays will boom this year. Literally boom. Your dog will most definitely thank you for it!
Tire your dog out during the day
Taking your dog for a walk during the evening, while the fireworks are in full swing, is a massive no. Your best bet is to take your pet for a walk during the day, preferably to their favourite park or beach, but anywhere will do. This provides them with a lot of stimuli, which should tire them out for the night. It won’t solve their fear as the fireworks are blazing, but it means that your pet should choose to hide rather than try to escape.
Create a safe space in your home
A lot of dogs choose to hide from the loud noises that fireworks bring with them, but they can’t if there’s nowhere to go. You should know that your pet has a favourite room or spot in your home, so make sure to stock that place up with their favourite toys and familiar smells. This gives them a sense of security and control, as they are surrounded by sights and smells that they know, which helps calm them from the unfamiliar noises outside.
Stock your cupboards full of treats
Your dog may become anxious throughout the night and lose appetite, or the opposite might happen. Make sure their water bowl is full and their favourite snacks are in quick supply. Treat them when they show signs of calm behaviour with our Training Bars and Bones or give them a 100% natural hard chew to ease their worries.
Ensure your dog has a collar and microchip
Should the worst happen due to fear and anxiety, you can be secure in the knowledge that your dog has the best chance of returning to you. Make sure that your furry friend is microchipped, which is the law for dogs over 8 weeks old. You should also place a collar with up-to-date contact details for yourself on your dog. We hope it never has to be used, but it’s better to be safe in this scenario.
Tips to keep your dog calm during the night
So it’s finally here. The day has arrived and you’re as prepared (or not) as you’ll ever be. Your dog doesn’t know this though, so you need to ensure they are as comfortable as they can be throughout the evening. It’s time to keep your four-legged friend safe and secure.
Close doors and windowsYou might like to see the pretty colours, but your dog certainly does not. To ease their worries, make sure that curtains are shut, with windows and doors being closed too. If you do need to leave your home, your dog should be in another room with the door closed to avoid the risk of a frightening escape. If your dog needs to go outside for a little bathroom break, they might feel more comfortable if you place them on a lead and walk with them. (Though it’s often reported that some dogs may be too scared to go outside at all, don’t force them to.)
Play ambient noiseWe’re not talking about firework noises here, we mean smooth calming noises or noises that your dog is used to, such as the sound of your TV or radio. Turning these up to mask the sound of fireworks may help, There is also this Sounds Therapy pack, pioneered by Dogs Trust and vets Sarah Heath and Jon Bowen, which aims to aid with socialisation if your dog is between 3-16 weeks of age. (Including their reactions to large bangs.) You may way to give this a try if your pup is just finding his/her way in the world.
Give them a safe spaceIf your dog wants to leave the room or hide under a table, make sure you let them! It provides them with an element of control as they choose where they want to be while the scary noises are underway. If you have set up a safe space for them and they choose somewhere else, move their toys and treats close by so they can choose to play with them if they wish.
Keep them engaged or isolate with them
Distracting your dog with toys or treats may work. If your dog sees that you’re not concerned by the fireworks, it could alleviate their concern too. Try to entice them to play with toys, but never force them to. If they prefer to sit in a room and isolate themselves, sit down with them, at least for a while. Don’t worry about a loss of appetite or a behaviour change, they’ll be back to their usual self in no time once they realise the fireworks are over.
What NOT to do
There are some tips and tricks on the internet that should not be attempted, even though they sound plausible. We’ll go through these so you don’t have to.
Playing fireworks or loud noises to “acclimatise” your dog
While the previously mentioned Sounds Therapy pack from Dogs Trust does include bangs and fireworks, these are designed for younger pups and you should be cautious in attempting to use it on adult dogs, especially if your dog is a rescue. If you don’t know their behavioural responses to certain sounds, or their sensitivity to noises or unknown stimuli, then playing loud music or fireworks out loud in an attempt to help them could make things worse.
Take your dog to a displayUnder no circumstances should this be attempted. While it may sound like a good idea to improve familiarity with fireworks, there are too many unknown variables that could occur. Your dog could run into the display, bark and whine or become aggressive without displaying these personality traits before. We urge you not to do this. Throwing your dog into the deep end is not a good idea.
Tie your dog up outside
There are some sources on the internet that state tying your dog to a post in a familiar environment outside will force them to acclimatise to fireworks. This does not acclimatise your dog, it simply scars them and forces them to listen to noises that they are afraid of, and will continually be afraid of if this method is used. The dog may also see it as a punishment too, which you do not want!
Reward your dog (and yourself!)
You’ve made it! That’s Bonfire Night over and done with for another year. Give yourself a pat on the back and your dog a pat on the head. We’d suggest rewarding your dog with some tasty treats, don’t forget to treat yourself to something too!