Preparation is crucial if dogs are to get through events such as firework displays and thunderstorms with minimal fear and stress. The first step is to identify/create a safe place for the dog to hide when he or she is frightened. Ideally this should be created well in advance of the predicted event. The best room in which to create a shelter is one which is naturally quiet, if possible located towards the centre of the house, and with minimal numbers of windows.
Creating a Refuge:
Install a Dog Appeasing Pheromone (aDAPtil) diffuser in the home, ideally close to or inside the dog's hiding place. The diffuser resembles a plug-in air freshener. The smell (which cannot be detected by humans) produced mimics the chemicals produced by the mothers of new-born puppies to calm them and encourage relaxed feeding. aDAPtil diffusers can be purchased from your local Robson & Prescott branch or from the hospital. Make sure you read the enclosed instructions carefully - most importantly the diffuser must be left operating 24 hours a day. If possible, install the diffuser a couple of weeks before the peak of the fireworks season to produce the most powerful effect. aDAPtil make dogs feel more relaxed, confident and better able to cope with a stressful event.
Put lots of old blankets for your dog to dig and burrow in, preferably in a corner where the dog has already tended to dig and hide. Include an old, unwashed piece of clothing, like a woolly jumper, as the familiar scent will provide some comfort even when you are not there. A dog crate or cage with an open door, covered with blankets makes a great 'cave-like' den.
Close the windows and draw the curtains. If possible the curtains should be of heavy material to block all light especially flashes and to dull all noises from outside. Old blankets can be used temporarily if the curtains are not of a suitably heavy material.
Bowls of water and food should be provided at all times, even if the dog does not appear to show much of an interest.
Leave a few special treats and chews in the hiding place - chewing can help to reduce tension. However, some dogs are not interested in treats at these stressful times so don't worry if these are ignored and do not try to force the issue!
Moderately loud rhythmic music with a good base beat is an effective way to mask the firework noises from outside. If your dog is used to the sound of radios and music, then a hi-fi or iPod speaker can be placed in the room at a loud but comfortable level. Of course a little respect for your neighbours will be appreciated!
Your designated hiding place MUST be accessible to your dog at all times; make sure that your dog cannot be accidentally trapped either inside OR outside of the 'safe room'.
Get your dog used to going into the hiding place 2 or 3 times a day during the run up to peak fireworks season and giving him or her some food or a favourite treat. This will help to build a positive association with this area.
On the day:
If possible, try to give the dog a good long walk during daylight hours. Avoid exercising phobic dogs after dark as they are more likely to be exposed to the things that frighten them. Well-exercised dogs are more likely to relax in the evening.
Make sure that the dog has no opportunity to bolt and escape if a sudden noise occurs. Make sure that all gates, fences and doors are secure and that he or she is on a lead at all times when out and about.
If your dog is not prone to tummy upsets and you know that a firework display is imminent, give your dog a large, stodgy, carbohydrate-rich meal in the late afternoon. Pasta, mashed potato or overcooked rice are ideal and will help to make him or her feel calm and sleepy as the evening draws in.
If your vet has prescribed any medication to be given to help to control the signs of anxiety this should be given exactly as directed - in advance of the onset of darkness or the start time of the fireworks if this can be predicted.
If the dog is really terrified then doggy earplugs can be used. These can be purchased from pet stores. These MUST NOT be pushed too far down the ear and MUST be removed and thrown away after use.
When the noises start:
Lead your dog to the hiding place if he/she does not make their own way there.
Do not be tempted to get cross with him or her and remember never to punish them for being frightened.
It is equally important not to try to soothe the dog. This reinforces his opinion that there is something to be frightened of and may even reward him for being fearful.
Ignore the dog while he or she is looking frightened. If he begins to relax, he can be rewarded with attention and affection. A game and food treats can also be given if he shows an interest.
Ignore the noises yourself and try to appear happy, relaxed and unconcerned. If there is another pet in the household who is less fearful it can be useful to engage them in a fun game - the fearful dog may be encouraged to join in.