People who have never witnessed the fearful suffering of a well-loved family pet during the course of the fireworks season are often quite scathing to those who have.
“Just don’t show any fear yourself, don’t comfort them” are all phrases you’ll probably be familiar with.
If only it were as simple as showing our dogs there’s nothing to be frightened of.
That our dog’s personality and genetic heritage had no bearing on their reaction to strange, unaccountably loud noises which happen with no apparent warning.
That particular piece of advice is one of the most annoying I ever read. The truth of the matter is that fear cannot be reinforced by another kindly soul patting your arm and making soothing noises.
Imagine a child who was scared of something and ignoring them when they came to you for comfort. It doesn’t stop the fear and it potentially makes it worse if the person you trust most in the world isn’t prepared to listen to your worries either!
That said, there is a difference between providing comfort when it is requested, and joining in with a dog’s fears.
When Diva my Sheltie runs around in a panic, for all the world crying “We’re all going to die, we’re all going to die!” in hysterical tones – me joining in and panicking with her would I’m sure, cause her to faint in alarm at my acknowledgement of a dire situation!
Behaviour like that would almost certainly create more fear and alarm than was already present in a fearful dog, and I wouldn’t advocate that at all!
Here’s a list of practical ideas to help your dog cope with fireworks fear – please do add any that I might have missed in the comments below.
1. Veterinary Intervention
- Is your collie particularly noise-reactive?
- Consult with your veterinary surgeon about situational medicines that are fast-acting, temporary and specifically designed for noise-related anxieties
- Consult your vet on the latest tablets available – there are so many that listing them would take too long and I wouldn’t be able to do the descriptions of each justice
- Suffice to say that pharmaceutical companies are constantly at work creating new wonder drugs to help us dog owners out
- It’s finding what works for your dog, but your vet would be the best to suggest what’s now available
2. Name Tag & Microchip Details
- It’s worth checking that your collie’s name tag and microchip details are up to date
- You can get a new name tag from lots of companies online, or in store at most big pet shops
- Not sure which company your microchip details are registered with?
- Pop into your vets and ask them if they can scan your collie’s microchip – they should be able to help you work out who you need to contact
3. Staying Safe Indoors
- Plan to be at home on Fireworks night – and I also suggest Fridays and Saturday nights throughout the end of October up until mid November
- Don’t take your collie out for a walk after dark, even if they’re currently not showing any signs of being worried about fireworks
- Close those windows and draw curtains to avoid the firework noise drifting in and unsettling your collie
- Be mindful of the fact collies can bolt in terror – so when going out for bedtime wees make sure they’re secure in a harness or collar
- Worth checking boundary fencing to make sure there isn’t a collie-size hole a frightened dog could squeeze through
- Also make family members aware about collies rushing through open doors – lots of dogs are lost this way over fireworks season 🙁
4. Building a Den
- Provide a safe space such as a bed under a dining room table or a crate with blankets over the top
- You can sound proof it to a degree with things like heavy blankets
- Please note if your dog is not used to a crate then popping one up won’t be a miracle cure, and might even end up with a negative association with fireworks!
- Otherwise a space under a table/ chairs/ behind a sofa can all make good hiding spaces for collies who want some space
5. Tellington Touch Principles
- Thundershirts have proved themselves useful for several dogs I’ve worked with, including some success with my own
- These can be purchased from pet shops & online
- They work along the principles of Tellington Touch, by providing gentle pressure around the dog, almost like a safe hug
6. Safe Smells
- Plug in diffusers such as Adaptil or Pet Remedy are scents designed to calm and reassure anxious dog
- Personally I’ve had mixed results, but I do know people who swear by them
- Again it’s a bit of trial and error to find out what works for your dog
- Adaptil or Pet Remedy are also available as sprays and collars – the same manufacturers as the diffusers
- I’ve been DELIGHTED in the past with the results of the Pet Remedy spray for my old boy Kai who found the fireworks season very traumatic
7. Calming Herbs & Supplements
The wonderful Holly Barker, canine nutritionist has lots of helpful information in her free Facebook group for noise sensitive dogs.
Here’s some of her herbal suggestions for dogs who are struggling:
- Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Vervain and Passion Flower are all herbs she uses or are contained in supplements she recommends
- She specifically leaves Valerian and Skullcap off this list as in very fearful dogs she believes they can make the problem worse (she does know some who respond well, but in the main the dogs she works with don’t)
- The only exception to this is the PUKKA Herbs Night Time Tea, which only has a very small amount of valerian in it
- She tends to use a loading dose for around four days – here are the quantities she recommends for Chamomile, Lemon Balm & Vervain: Half to One teaspoon per 5kg up to twice daily
- She has recommendations of where to get these herbs in her Facebook group – but does suggest you can just use tea bags from the supermarket to get started
- Passion flower tincture: 0.5ml per 5kg
- Passion flower is particularly helpful for traumatised dogs who don’t sleep well
Here’s some of her supplement suggestions for dogs who are struggling:
- Hedgerow Hounds Tranquil – Relax & Calm – has most of the above herbs contained within it
- VetSpec Calm and Focused
- CSJ Calm Down!
- CSJ Down Boy!
- CSJ Focus!
- PUKKA Herbs Night Time Tea Bags (contents of one teabag per 5kg bodyweight once or twice a day)
NB: She has discount codes available in her Facebook group for some of these supplements. And she wouldn’t align herself to anything she didn’t wholeheartedly recommend and use on her own dogs too!
BONUS! Distraction Action
Training & Tug Games!
My dogs LOVE to tug with me and Kai taught me a long time ago that when he was highly aroused and excited tugging, he didn’t care what noises were happening around him.
I remember one New Year’s Eve being EXTREMELY loud as I had all of the dogs in our living room together, taking it in turns to play with me.
My usual policy of quiet whilst waiting went completely out the window and I actively encouraged them all to be as noisy as they saw fit!!
No-one noticed any fireworks noise that night…
Going For a Drive
Some of my dogs LOVE being in the car – they’ll choose to go and sit out there on a nice day if it’s open and available to them.
Last New Year’s Eve my husband and I drove to the top of a hill where we could see fireworks in the distance but without the alarming noises.
We enjoyed a takeaway in the front of the van whilst we watched movies on the iPad with the dogs stowed safely in the back.
And yes, we do appreciate how middle-aged this makes us!
What’s Coming Up?
- Check out any local firework displays and what night they’ll be going on
- Post in a local Facebook group to ask if anyone has plans so you can avoid being surprised by garden displays
- Chat to your neighbours – maybe even print off a note and distribute it to the houses in your area
- Pop your mobile number in the note and ask if they could let you know if they have any fireworks fun planned
Many behavioural & dog training folk will suggest that you should use desensitisation CD’s in advance of fireworks night, claiming that we can get our dogs used to the noise.
Now again, I wouldn’t rule it out for all dogs (and for puppies in particular I think it’s valuable) but I read a great article explaining that the reason it may not work is because our dogs hearing is so superior to our own. What sounds realistic to us just doesn’t to them.
They simply can’t be fooled by the noise even when played at full volume from your stereo – which I had done with Kai with him looking at me with a wise expression which clearly indicated he thought I had gone a bit mad.
I do wish at times like this that I had a magic wand which I could wave to prevent fear and anxiety in my own dogs and other peoples.
But life just isn’t that simple and these suggestions are just that – suggestions to help your dogs cope with what can be a very stressful time.
If you have something that’s helped your dogs that I haven’t mentioned – please do let me know.
Ideally I’d live in a world where the sale of fireworks is only licensed to organised events and not stupid and thoughtless individuals.
But since I don’t, I would at least like to live in a world which holds remedies to support the beloved dogs that I care about.
Today I’m grateful for each of my dogs for helping me understand and recognise the importance of seeing each of them as the individuals that they are. It’s an important and valuable lesson which I feel obliged to share.