Tips & Advice for your Anxious Dogs
During Halloween & Fireworks Season
Please do take all the necessary measures to keep your dogs safe and supported as much as you possibly can around Halloween & when fireworks might be going off. This can be a scary time for many dogs, especially those that are anxious or nervous and of course the ones who struggle with the bangs & flashes of fireworks.
Halloween can be as challenging as fireworks for many dogs with lots of knocking on the door and strange voices, children out on the streets and strange looking costumes and decorations both inside and outside homes.
SAFETY & MANAGEMENT
- Ensure all family members know to secure your dog before opening the door. I hear all too often of dogs that have escaped through an open front door on both Halloween and around fireworks time.
- Ensure all family members are aware that your dog may not wish to be touched when in a fearful state, especially children. A dog that is highly stressed and trying to cope with feeling afraid is highly likely to bite a child that tries to touch them, even though they may normally be the best of friends. Try to encourage children to engage in other ways of supporting your fearful dog.
- Walk your dog during daylight hours if at all possible. If you have to walk them of an evening, keep it as short as possible, pee’s & poo’s and then head home and make up their walk time with alternative mentally stimulating activities.
- If you live in a busy and built up area and have to walk your dog in the evenings, is it possible to drive them anywhere quieter for their walk, even a quieter neighbourhood where there are less likely to be fireworks let off by youngsters.
- Ensure your equipment is appropriate for your dog. Have them wear an additional safety back up if there is any danger of them escaping a collar or harness. Have a double ended lead clipped on both a harness and a collar and if you think there is a very real danger of your dog escaping, use the back up of a slip lead but as a secondary measure (so your dog is not walked with the slip lead in play, it is only there in the event of an emergency)
- Avoid having your dog off lead around this time of year so in the unfortunate event of fireworks being let off, they will be safe and not in danger of bolting in panic. This can apply even in daytime (More details below)
- Take your dog into the garden for pee’s and poo’s late afternoon before all the activities start. Most dogs would be able to hold then through the night, but if they need to a quick visit to the garden as late as possible after everything has finished (hopefully!)
- Always supervise your dogs in the garden at this time of year so you are there to offer them support if anything should go off and ensure they don’t try to escape in a panic. Keep your nervous or anxious dog on a long line as these dogs could be determined to escape if terrified.
- Make sure your microchip details and ID tags are up to date
RECOMMENDATIONS TO HELP YOUR FEARFUL OR ANXIOUS DOG ON THE ACTUAL DAYS / NIGHTS
- Provide your dog with an appropriate amount of exercise during the day. As with people, physical exercise induces endorphin release, which can have a powerful anti-anxiety effect (as long as your dog is not stressed out by walks)
- Provide your dog with additional relaxation and decompression activities during the daytime as well as evening (see below for some suggestions of enrichment activities)
- Feed your dog a good hour before any fireworks are expected. The full tummy feeling can help them feel calmer.
- Allow your dog to choose what they want to do. Avoid trying to cajole them into doing something you feel will help them. Support them as best you can in the choices they make.
- Some want to run and hide and be left alone
- Some want to be cuddled tight
- Some want to be with you but not necessarily cuddled or touched
- Set up an area of the house especially for your dog, ideally a room where they are most comfortable and one you can close off to as much noise as possible
- Provide your dog with a safe space to hide if that’s what they want to do.
- Cover a crate and fill with cosy bedding to make a den
- Make a blanket den behind a chair or sofa and fill with cosy bedding
- Block off the sides of a table and create a cosy area underneath the table for them
- Play moderate to loud music depending on your dogs sensitivity. Many people recommend classical music, and although this has been found to have a calming effect on dogs, you could also try music with a louder and more regular bass beat which may be more effective at lessening the impact of the bangs, as long as they’re not upset by the music (My two have to put up with my trance classics!) You could also try a white noise app such as Rain which has been found to be effective at masking the noises and a member in our private Facebook group has also mentioned that Alexa has an app that provides a range of white noise options which may be useful.
- Once the worst of the fireworks are over, calming or classical music can be ideal for helping soothe your dog and bring their anxiety levels back down. There are some links to music options below that you could try both before, during and after the fireworks to see what might work best for your particular dog.
- Keep all doors and windows closed
- Draw all the curtains to keep the flashes minimized and help dull the noise
- Turn on the lights to help reduce the effect of the flashes
- Use a Thundershirt or Anxiety Wraps
- Natural herbal calming remedies (ideally start giving these a couple of weeks before) these are things that can assist with calming anxious dogs alongside other measures, but they will not calm an anxious dog all by themselves.
- Rescue Remedy (BachFlowers)
- Valerian & Scullcap
- Adaptil plug in
- TTouch or Massage. If your dog wants to be touched (please bear in mind some don’t) then doing TTouch or massage on them can be a great way to help them cope and relax a little.
- Go ahead and reassure your dog. YOU WILL NOT REINFORCE THEIR FEAR this has been scientifically disproven so please, support your dogs when they are scared, anything else is just inhumane. CLICK HERE to read an excellent article from Patricia McConnell on why you can’t reinforce fear.
- If your dog is awake and reasonably ok but clearly concerned, then a super tasty enrichment activity may be great at helping distract them and remain calm. Enrichment activities are not just about novel ways to feed treats or food, they encourage our dogs to engage in instinctive behaviours that have a calming effect on them. Sniffing and snuffling, chewing and licking are all activities that help our dogs to naturally relax themselves.
- Snuffle mats or sprinkled treats all over the floor
- Folded towels full of sprinkled treats in all the folds so your dog has to rummage and snuffle
- Bowls or boxes filled with scrunched up paper, plastic balls or your dogs toys, sprinkled with tasty treats so they have to rummage through the objects to snuffle out the treats.
- Stuffed Kongs, K9 Connectables or Calcium Bones
- Muffin trays smeared with yummy things and sprinkled with treats
- Deer Antlers, Yak Chews and other such natural power chews
- Some dogs can even be encouraged to engage in games, which can be a great way to distract them and help them cope and relieve tension, but don’t keep on at your dog to play if they’re clearly not showing interest in doing so, this will only add to their anxiety. Tug, Rough and Tumble, Chase and find it games can all be great distracting tension busters.
- Remain Calm & Smile! Our body language and behaviour can have a significant impact on our dogs. If we are all antsy and worrying about trying to help them feel better… what energy do you think they will be getting from us?…. Why do I say smile?… Smiling helps to soften our body language (not a fake smile a real one!) and shifts our energy into a more relaxed and positive place.
I have been known to burst out laughing when a big bang goes off!… and I gotta tell you, in the space of less than 3 seconds my boy’s face went from ‘Shit! What was that bang!’ to ‘Ooooh Mother whatcha laughing at’ with a visible softening of his body, only slight but visible nonetheless. This may have no impact at all on a dog that suffers with extreme fear or anxiety at this time of year, but for those that are more mildly affected it could be a useful interrupter and mood lightener.
BELT & BRACES PLEASE @ WALKY TIME AROUND HALLOWEEN & FIREWORK NIGHT
I usually recommend to people, especially those with anxious and nervous dogs and Romanian rescues or foreign rescues to restrict or avoid off lead walks altogether for a week or so. Even if you’re walking your dog during the daytime, if they have been upset by people knocking on your door, strange costumes and fireworks, their stress levels and anxiety will be elevated meaning they are more likely to react to things they wouldn’t normally and more likely to be affected by things they may not be normally.
This means, for a dog that has been really upset by fireworks, you could let them off lead the day after an evening of fireworks around your home, and the mere sound of a car back firing or a gas gun going off could be enough to have your dog running in a complete panic reaction. Keep them on a long line attached to a harness ideally so they can still roam and sniff but will be safely attached to you.
Your dog won’t die from not being let off lead for a week or so, but they could die from bolting in panic because something startles them when they’re already in an elevated stress state.
CALMING MUSIC OPTIONS
Scientists have developed short films to soothe cats and dogs on Bonfire Night – narrated by Dr Who star David Tennant. In response, insurance firm More Than has launched the world’s first film antidotes, which they claim are scientifically designed to reduce stress in our pets.
Although the films may seem abstract to adults, we’re told they are perfect for pets, with content scientifically proven to induce ‘feelings of relaxation and sleep’. The film is even shot in a dog’s colour spectrum of blues and yellows.
In addition to compiling an in-depth academic report, expert Karen Wild consulted on both productions to ensure they would stay true to the research and counter the effects of noise phobia.
She said: “These films may seem strange to humans, but it’s important to realise that cats and dogs do not perceive the world in the same way we do and will respond to completely different audio and visual stimuli.
“Hopefully these films, in conjunction with other veterinary-approved measures, can have a positive effect on cats and dogs that suffer from noise phobia.”
I have also found that playing calming frequency music on a regular basis during the days and evenings around firework season can have a positive impact on a dogs baseline stress level on a daily basis. This is also something that could also have a positive impact on how well they cope with Fireworks season.
LONGER TERM SOLUTIONS
You can of course use sound therapy to begin desensitising and counter conditioning your dogs to fireworks, thunder etc but this will be of little use if fireworks night is upon you. This work needs to be done over a long period and repeated often to ensure your dog is fully habituated and relaxed around the sounds.