With its associations of childhood memories, be it the familiar warmth of a favourite winter coat, the sickly-yet-oh so sweet taste of toffee apples or the excitement of a local bonfire, many of us look forward to firework season. Many of us, that is, except dog owners.
Over the next month or so (long gone are the days when fireworks were limited to Bonfire Night and New Year’s Eve), the nation’s pets will be subjected to the loud bangs, flashes and whistles of the prettiest of explosives. Of course, not all dogs suffer from firework phobia. But for those that do, it’s a tough time for both them and their owners, who often feel powerless to help their panicked pets. You only have to type ‘dogs and fireworks’ into Twitter to see the many frustrated cries of dog owners in real-time (“Cheers to the person letting off fireworks, got two terrified dogs now”, “Please no more fireworks, my dogs won’t stop barking at them”, “Dogs are going mad cos of fireworks, driving me nuts”) – and it’s not even the 5th of November yet.
Imagine finding yourself in the middle of a thunderstorm. Yet you don’t have any prior experience of a thunderstorm – and nobody has told you about what they involve. Oh, and on top of all that, your hearing is exceptionally sensitive. To you, the sky has suddenly started making horrendously loud noises, and the bright forks illuminating the area in front of you seem to come from all directions and without warning. You’re also in the middle of a field with nowhere to hide. Yikes. Now can you see why so many dogs are scared of fireworks? They have no idea what they are or when the next batch of rockets is going to be released, and are often cooped up in a room with no safe hiding place. So how can we make it easier for them?
Dog behaviourists often recommend ‘desensitising’ your dog to the noise of fireworks well before the nights draw in, using a low level sounds CD; although for dogs that are already noise-sensitive, this technique would need to be carefully controlled in case it actually made the fear worse. Keeping the curtains closed and the television on to mask the noise is also likely to help, and the use of Adaptil pheromone diffusers or ‘Thundershirts‘ are other popular techniques. Creating a hiding place such as a ‘den’ where your dog can retreat to is important, and will be a lot easier if the dog is already crate trained. What dog could resist a cosy crate full of familiar blankets and a delicious stuffed Kong?
Sadly there is another element to the ‘dogs vs fireworks’ dilemma – dogs bolting out of fear and becoming lost. This Daily Mirror article with its bizarre ‘dog runs away from fireworks and goes clubbing’ headline (no, really), shows just one instance of a family pet fleeing from fireworks, but its obvious humorous tone makes light of a serious topic. According to Petlog statistics, the 5th November 2012 saw a 40% increase in the number of reports of lost or found animals. How many dogs will find themselves separated from their owners this year due to firework misery? Already one young collie has been reported missing after allegedly being spooked by fireworks. If your dog needs to go outside when fireworks are being let off, it’s advisable to keep him on a lead – even in your own garden. Make sure your dog is microchipped and wearing an identification tag, just in case the worst happens.
Restrictions on the sale of fireworks is something which most pet owners would probably like to see, yet it seems unlikely that any drastic changes will be made to the law. For now, it’s up to us to keep our dogs safe and happy during fireworks season in order to keep both them – and ourselves – sane.
Update: The collie (which jumped a gate after being spooked by a nearby firework display) has now been reunited with its owner.