Autumn Animal Welfare Advice
Firework night can be great fun for you however for our pets it can be a frightful time of the year. The ideal time to teach a dog about fireworks and other unusual human things will be before the age of 15 weeks, however if you have had a spring/summer puppy fireworks may have been missed off. There are things you can do to calm your adult dog during this time with management. Longer term it would be advisable to teach your pet to associate the scary noises with good things happening. You do this by using firework CD’s or downloads, over time you can teach them to make more positive associations, which can reduce the fear. Training new associations does take some time, so will be something to do for next year, and below are some management tips to help your dog this year!
Below are some signs of stress to look out for;
- Not eating
- Reluctance to go out when its dark
- Abnormal behaviour for your pet (digging, pacing, salivating)
- Following you around
- Hiding away
Here are a few handy tips to help reduce stress in your pet this firework night:
1) Letting your dog have options. Confining your dog to one room can be stressful, so letting
them have a choice to leave the room and hide somewhere where they feel safe will help
them feel in control. They may decide their ‘usual’ comfortable spot near you feels safe too.
Giving back a bit of control and choice to your dog will provide them with comfort.
2) Creating a ‘safe space’ inside your home for your dog to hide away from fireworks. You can
use a crate (If your dog is crate trained – guidance on the RSPCA website) or table with a
blanket draped over the top to create a den. It is beneficial to use a room with no windows.
When using a crate, leave the door open so your dog doesn’t feel trapped as this can be
stressful for them. Providing options so your animal can choose when and where to hide will
help put them at ease.
3) Avoid taking your dog out or letting it out in the garden at times when fireworks are likely to
go off. On bonfire night the curfew for setting off fireworks is extended so they may go off
earlier than expected. If you are unable to walk your dog before dark (work commitments
etc) you can play stimulating games in the home such as scent work, teaching your dog a
new trick or playing with toys. Although you should try and keep your routine the same,
feeding dinner before fireworks can also be beneficial if your dog is particularly scared of
fireworks. You can introduce these changes slowly over a few days, so it does not disrupt
your dog’s routine.
4) Keeping a radio or TV on can reduce the impact of loud noises outside. Classical music can
help drown the noise out and is proven to help de-stress. There are also special CD’s created
to help dogs through firework season, these can be found online.
5) If your dog can see that fireworks have no effect on you it can decrease their anxiety.
Animals are highly perceptive; changes in your behaviour, being overly affectionate and
trying to comfort your dog too much may further worry them and spur their anxiety. You can
still reassure them how you would normally but not be overwhelming. Maintaining routine
can be calming and reassuring.
6) Shutting your curtains to minimise firework light coming in. This simple action shields the
animal from seeing but the numerous and unexpected flashing of light that can be very
distressing for dogs, especially when paired with the loud booms and screeches. You can
leave lights on inside the home to minimise the impact of the flashes outside.
7) Escape proofing your home. Although many dogs will hide from firework noises some may
want to flee. It is important to shut all doors and windows and make sure your garden is
secure from escape. Where possible, keep them away from doors that provide entrance and
exit to the house during the night in case they attempt to run out in order to escape the
cause of their fear. Make sure your microchip details are up to date in case of the worse-
case scenario. It is a lot easier to reunite families with their pets when details are up to date
and correct and is a legal requirement, as of April 2016.
8) Providing food enrichment or long-lasting chews. Using kongs, licki-matts and chews can
take their mind off the loud noises surrounding them. You can also use our amazon Wishlist
to donate food enrichment toys to our centre dogs to help them at this stressful time. If your
dog will not eat, this is a sign that they are really scared and it may be worth seeking
9) Get ready for next year! If you are worried about your pet’s reaction it may be advisable to
seek professional advice. Veterinary’s can provide medication, and also a good trainer who
can provide training solutions to complement any medication, and perhaps eliminate or
reduce the need for it next year. It may be that you need a certified clinical animal
behaviourist if it is a noise phobia, and they have other sound sensitivities, but a good
trainer will be able to refer you on. Get in there nice and early to help your pet cope better
It is important to try and see things from your dog’s point of view. Many dogs can become worried during Halloween season; people wear bizarre costumes, the doorbell constantly rings and there are unusual, sometimes noisy decorations around the house. If you have a nervous dog or recently adopted an animal, this holiday can cause a lot of stress.
You can help your dog by introducing them to Halloween costumes and decorations slowly and at your animals’ pace. If your dog is particularly worried you may benefit from working with a registered dog trainer or certified behaviourist.
There are measures you can put in place to minimize stress during this holiday. Your dog may benefit from walking before it gets dark; failing this, providing stimulating games such as search/find it and training in the home which can be just as enriching as a stroll around the block. It is inevitable that your doorbell will be going off more than normal, so try to plan ahead. You can provide your dog with a safe space away from the disruptions of the seasonal event or place a stairgate from the entrance of your home to help make your dog feel safe and secure. You may not want your dog running up to children your dog does not know at the door because their reaction may be unpredictable, as may the visitors whose initial reaction might be to greet and touch an animal. Even if your dog is familiar with children of all ages, children in strange costumes are out of the ordinary and may be ‘peculiar’ or scary to your dog. You also cannot guarantee that the child will respond in a safe an appropriate manner to an unfamiliar dog running at them. If your dog is worried by new people and may not cope with trick or treaters coming and going, placing a note on your door or gate with the lights off will prevent people knocking, however if you still wish to participate you can provide sweets in a box on the doorstep.
Rewarding your dog for good behaviour such as calmness, ignoring the door, settling and responding to cues will be very reinforcing and will encourage your dog to repeat the desirable behaviours. Remember that if your dog misbehaves, this may be due to worry and stress in that they are reacting to different experiences which do not normally occur. Try and set your animal up for success and do not tell them off for showing you how they are feeling as this can make the problem worse. Providing kongs, licki-matts and treat balls can be very calming to an anxious dog and may help focus their attention onto good things. It may be worth making some enrichment up ahead of time to distract when the first trick-or-treaters come by.
Always be careful of animals around sweets and chocolates as these can be toxic to dogs if ingested. Providing your dog with their own food enrichment using methods mentioned earlier will help distract your dog of the human food around them and should last a little longer.
Our dogs at the RSPCA Mount Noddy centre love getting involved at Halloween, the staff will often bring in lots of pumpkins which the dogs can investigate and play with, why not try with your dog this year?
Happy Halloween from all at Mount Noddy Animal Centre.