Dogs and cats can very easily become fearful of something. This fear can perpetuate until they are beside themselves with worry. It often starts as quite an innocuous thing. A car backfiring startled them and now any noise that sounds similar to that is something to be afraid of. Unfortunately, our love of our pets often reinforces this behaviour. Our natural instinct is to comfort our dog who was upset by the big scary noise. What we are actually saying to our dog when we do that is that it is OK to be scared of this noise! So the very next time it happens, they think it is OK to be scared because mummy and daddy are going to cuddle me. And, of course, cuddling them then perpetuates this behaviour!
It is very important that you do not reassure your pet if it gets very distressed. As we have already said, this simply helps reinforce the fear. It is much better to give your dog a quiet, safe place they can be for the evening, and for him/her to stay there. You can be in the room too if it will help keep your pet relaxed. If your pet is relaxed when fireworks are going off, you can praise them for this (correct behaviour). It can reinforce the correct, and relaxed, response to fireworks.
Of course, this is a harder cycle to break with the older dog who has already learnt to be afraid of fireworks. There are various tools available to us to help our dogs during this stressful time, and hopefully we will be able to get them over their fear.
As the season of fireworks approaches, speak to your Medivet team about placing a plug-in diffuser pack of dog pheromone that will relax them (don’t worry, it won’t affect you!). This pheromone is released by the female dog when she has given birth and helps relax her puppies. It has a similar effect on older dogs too. However, to have maximum effect, it needs to be plugged into the home two to three weeks before the fireworks are due to start. So plan and think ahead!
Once the fireworks have started, you can do a few things around the house to help reduce the anxiety. Keeping your pets indoors is paramount. Avoid going on a walk in the evening when the fireworks have started. Closing all the windows and shutting the curtains helps reduce the sounds and lights coming into the home. You should also play some loud music, or turn the TV volume up to drown out external noises.
Breaking the fear cycle is the best approach in dogs who are scared. This should start when they are young. Socialisation allows them to be exposed to a variety of objects, noises, people, etc. Once they have learnt that a car is a normal thing in their environment, they are less likely to be fearful of it. The same goes for loud noises. If we expose our puppy to a loud noise that startles them but behave as if nothing has happened, they will soon realise that it is not a scary thing and won’t worry about it in the future.
Please contact your Medivet team, by using our online practice finder, for more advice if your pet is distressed during this season. They can give you the appropriate advice to help you better manage this potentially challenging time.
Posted October 20, 2015 in Seasonal Care