Keep your pets calm among the fireworks

First published Sunday 2 November 2014 in The Argus

Sharon Bolt – dog behaviour expert

REMEMBER, remember the 5th of November – it’s a time dog owners dread and never forget.

With bonfire night fast approaching it is a nightmare time of year for so many dog owners. Of course the main problem is that a lot of displays start before the fifth and continue long into the New Year.

So what should people do?

Contact your local council and ask for details of local firework displays so that you can be fully prepared.

Ensure that your dog wears a collar and ID tag and their microchip details are up to date just in case they panic and manage to escape.

Try using distracting techniques, such as turning on a TV or put on a radio with classical or soothing music to help drown out firework noises. Do not leave your dog alone at home and never try to force them to face their fears by making them watch a firework display, as this could be traumatic and increase fear.

Ensure your dog is well exercised both physically and mentally so they are tired. Feed them a few hours before the event and ensure they have access to fresh water. Plan the last walk or toilet break just before it gets dark, this is likely to be the last toilet outing of the day.

Create a familiar safe place or den for them to go during fireworks. This could be a crate, a wardrobe or even under a bed.

Close all windows and curtains so it helps defuse the firework noise and helps block out the firework lights.

You can also buy a CD with firework noises on to help desensitise your dog to loud bangs or download these noises from the internet. You start by playing the noise at a low volume while doing something that he likes, such as playing with his ball or giving him treats. This will create a positive association. You gradually increase the volume until your dog adjusts to the noise without showing fear or anxiety.

There are also alternative remedies, and although not a guarantee, can help in some cases. Bach Rescue Remedy for pets is an emergency solution which consists of five natural solutions to help calm and reassure pets. It works by restoring emotional balance whenever they are under stress.

Skullcap and Valerian are licensed herbal medicines which are used to relieve stress, nervousness, over excitability and travel sickness in dogs (and cats).

Some homeopathic remedies are also reported to be helpful, such as aconite which works with dogs that have been frightened badly particularly by thunder, borax which works for dogs frightened by sudden noises and Gelesium for fear and anxiety from loud sounds and for trembling and shaking.

Dog Appeasing Pheromone is another alternative, and can be purchased either as a plug in, collar or spray. The pheromone mimics the pheromone produced by lactating mothers which gives comfort to her puppies and helps reassure and calm anxious dogs in stressful situations.

Thundershirt is a coat or vest that is put on a dog, and claims to help calm and comfort them. It is thought the gentle pressure applied by the Thundershirt has a calming effect on the nervous system and reduces symptoms of stress and anxiety.

During fireworks the best thing you can do for your dog is to act as if nothing is happening, that you are not upset about the fireworks and do not over-react if they become agitated.

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