Firework Phobias – It may be too late but it is never too early
It may seem odd to talk about firework phobias just after the main firework period has passed. However, I know that recent problems you may have experienced with your dogs will be very fresh in your mind, often painfully so. Recent studies show that the majority of dogs will react to fireworks in some way, and often we see this as acceptable. Yet for approximately one in ten dogs, they will develop a true phobia. Equally, many dogs tend to show progressively distressing behaviour towards fireworks year on year. Dogs initially showing mild to moderate fear may progress to severe phobias later in life unless proactive measures are taken as soon as possible. To take action NOW is the key to dealing with this distressing condition.How scared is my dog of fireworks?
The first step in managing a firework phobia is to identify if it truly exists. Over the years Behavioural Specialists have developed and refined a Sound Sensitivity Questionnaire. This questionnaire is now available free of charge – CLICK HERE. This will help you identify if your dog has a true phobia to fireworks and outline how to manage the level of fear that exists. This will then help prevent your dog’s level of fear increasing over time. Now is an ideal time to take the questionnaire while your memories of what your dog experienced are fresh. By completing the questionnaire repeatedly over time you will also be able to assess if your dog’s behaviour is in fact improving.
A long term goal should be to generally improve our dogs’ reactions to fireworks. One of the proven techniques to achieve this is Sound Desensitisation and Counterconditioning. The tools required for this are now available free of charge on www.dogstrust.org.uk. There are free downloads for the sounds required and very thorough instructions on how to undertake this type of therapy. This technique has strong evidence in helping dogs with firework phobias (and can in fact be extended to other noise phobias such as storms and gunshot noises), but should only be started once all chance of fireworks happening have passed. The complete program should be expected to take from three to six months and needs to be undertaken thoroughly. To undertake the full program takes time and commitment, yet should truly help your dog long-term.
Long term therapies
For some of our dogs a firework phobia may be just the tip of the iceberg. It may be part of a more generalised phobia or anxiety condition. If your dog shows severe responses to firework noises, or perhaps is fearful of every day noises, such as doors slamming or traffic, then it may be sensible to speak to one of our vets to discuss approaches which may help with broader behavioural concerns. These can take several months to be take effect, so again now is the best time to consider these type of treatments.
Most dogs will be aware of and react to fireworks. Many have developed their own ways of coping with them. Yet for others they have no way of coping with the extreme noises from fireworks. This will often result in our dogs frantically pacing around the house in a very distressed manner, or they may simply try and hide, often unsuccessfully. One proven technique for helping our dogs to cope is the combination of providing a safe den, alongside the use of either an Adaptil collar or plug in. Details on how to provide these, as well as advice on how we should behave, are available on www.adaptil.com. Remember, there is good evidence that these techniques significantly help dogs with firework phobias. Again, we should consider “training” our dogs to feel positive about using a den, and so they should be put in place at least one to two months before the fireworks start, and to positively reward our dogs for using them. The den itself can even be used throughout the year to act as a coping mechanism for other phobias such as thunderstorms.
Short term therapies
For pets where we have not had enough time to undertake the above strategies, then we may need to use medications to help at the time of the fireworks, for example New Year’s Eve. The aim of these should be to reduce anxiety and fear rather than to simply sedate. For some of these medications there is no predictable dose for each individual dog. Therefore, they will need to be tried before the time of the fireworks as a change of dose may be required depending on how your individual dog responds.
In summary, we need to plan ahead with dealing with firework phobias. This is not a problem to be dealt with on the 5th of November! Take action NOW to really make a difference for this truly distressing condition which many of our pets suffer with. Take the first step at home – complete the Sound Sensitivity Questionnaire. It is easy and free of charge. If after this you need any help or guidance, please contact us for an appointment.
Steve Bonthorne BVSc (Sydney) MRCVS - Steve has been with MKVG since 2007 having qualified in Australia in 1992. Over the past few years, he has developed a strong interest in dental disease and its treatment. All too often he finds this disease can go undetected and can often be painful and debilitating, but also responds very well to treatment, giving our pets a much better quality of life.