Dogs and Fireworks. Your Dog Matters. Podcast #2.
The following is a transcript from the 'Your Dog Matters' Dogs and Fireworks Edition Podcast that I create as seen on the above Anchorfm player. The Youtube video version can be seen here.
Hello and a very warm welcome back to the Your Dog Matters podcast and video channel. Today on the second episode, I would like to talk to you all about the subject of fireworks. As I speak to you, we are coming to the end of September and of course here in the UK, we have November the 5th which is known as Guy Fawkes Day, there’s just a problem in that as opposed to keeping fireworks to just one day, we seem to have fireworks for a lot of the autumn and winter period.
We have various religious festivals which take place at this time of year and then we can get into bonfire night itself otherwise known as Guy Fawkes Night on November the 5th. And then we are also looking at Christmas and New Year and the New Year alone seems to be another time of year where the use of fireworks is very prevalent.
Personally, I think fireworks should be just kept to public displays. They should not be sold to the general public because the fireworks can have a terrifying effect on not just our local dogs in the area but cats and local wildlife as well. Anyway, maybe that’s a subject for another podcast on another day.
Let me just come back on myself a little bit. I’m now pleased to say that you will find the Your Dog Matters Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Anchor, Breaker, and Overcast, possibly some others as well. I will clarify those in future videos.
You can see me, of course, talking to you on video if you go to YouTube. The YouTube channel is simply YouTube.com/AlphaDogBehaviour. So I look forward to seeing you there.
Now just a small request from me and you hear this on all YouTube videos, but this goes for me as well. If you would be kind enough to like and/or subscribe, I would be very grateful for that. If you can also share the video or the podcast that goes – that helps go a long way as well so I’ll be grateful to you.
So enough said and done, you will be glad to know there are no adverts. This is all me coming to you live, the time of recording at least and I hope to give you some good insight today on the subject of fireworks. OK?
Now, some dogs can respond very, very badly to fireworks to the extent that they will become extremely fearful and try to escape and panic from their immediate environment. That’s an extreme reaction. Coming down from that, we have then other dogs which may just become very anxious. They may be panting. They may be drooling. OK? And you may see any sort of range of significant anxious behaviour from your dog.
And I’ve drawn up here a list of 8 main headings that I think you can consider in preparation for the upcoming firework season. Now as I said at the beginning of this podcast, regrettably, as opposed to just having a very small localised period where we are having to manage our dogs’ reactions to fireworks, and I realised that many dogs aren’t at all worried but this is aimed at those of you that have dogs that are concerned about fireworks.
So the point I was going to talk about is preparation now if not maybe a bit sooner is the time to prepare your dog for the firework period. I will give you some more specific ideas at the end in terms of how I would be suggesting you build up your dog’s confidence and ability to cope with those things because we often need a month or two where we are introducing some desensitisation ideas. OK? So the actual reaction your dog has to fireworks is much less in the future.
So let’s jump in with number one.
Number one: Provide a den for your dog.
Ensure that your dog can go where it likes. Now, you may be able to set up something like a table with your dog’s bed under the table and then you could cover the top of the table and make it nice and dark and you could sound-proof it as well.
Ideally, of course, you may well be setting up a location that your dog may want to go somewhere else. So ensure that wherever you set up the den, it’s done in a place that your dog is happy to go to.
I’ve had some – I recall a customer said their dog wanted to go into the airing cupboard upstairs which was a very small location, but that’s OK. If that’s where the dog wants to go, let’s utilise that location and let’s create some bedding and provide the dog some water there and maybe think if we could look at creating some extra sound deadening as well.
I do recall just going off a quick tangent, a product that was put to me a couple of years ago that was a completely sound-proof box and it had some noise cancellation technology built-in. I thought actually that could be rather cool, if not expensive. But there are ideas there that you could grasp and run with such as noise deadening. OK? So that’s something for you to consider.
If you are able to leave any personal clothing in that den, that’s also something for you to think about. Now, not all dogs like to go into crates so you may have an issue there. I don’t envisage you closing your dog inside a crate anyway. So I imagine that to be left open. So we are trying to give the dog options of where it wants to go yet at the same time, we are trying to guide the dog into a place that you know where he or she is, and that behaviour is as calm as it could be. OK?
So just think about locations that your dog will naturally gravitate to and then what you can do in the area to make your dog as comfortable as possible.
Number two: Stay calm for your dog.
Your own reactions to your dog’s behaviour can, in many instances at least, have a bearing on how your dog seems to take cues from you. So if you are – what we want to try to avoid in short is to try to fuss and reassure our dogs when they are very anxious. It’s a natural thing to do because humans want to reassure especially other humans if they are upset or anxious about something. But when we do this with our dogs, it can potentially give the indication to our dog that we also recognise there is a problem and that you even want your dog to respond in this way because as you were saying, “Good boy or good girl, it’s OK,” this will invite – you may as well be saying, “Yes, this is how I like you to behave, good boy, good girl,” which of course we don’t want the dog to perpetuate with their anxiety.
So be very careful as to your own responses to any noises which you can’t control outside of the house and just play it very low key. Ensure that you are not making a fuss of your dog when he or she is stressed. OK?
There are of course always exceptions to the rule. And if you personally feel that your dog does respond well to a bit of reassurance then that is OK. But as a general rule, I tend not to do that.
Number three: Keep your dog indoors.
Now, that may sound rather obvious but thinking about the time of day in which you are going out is it really needs some thought.
Clocks will be changing here in due course and so we may well be coming home from work, it could be very dusk-like and it’s not then unusual for fireworks to be lit off in your area especially if you want to be on top area because, by the very nature, very few fireworks have been lit off in the day because we need the night time to demonstrate that light effect.
So, certainly try to walk your dog in daylight hours if at all possible because that can make a big impact. So that’s certainly something to think about. You may need some additional help so that your dog is being exercised in the day in maybe quieter locations or at least locations away from where you could expect fireworks to be taking place. So you might be using the car more. You might be driving away from walking around your local environment especially if it’s inner-city and into some more rural environment. So it’s just something for you to consider.
If you know fireworks are being let off at a certain period in your location then certainly I would not go away. I have had stories of dogs bolting and because they are so frantic, they are just running. They are not running home. You would like to think they would stay with you for reassurance but that’s not always the case when the dog is panicked.
Maybe on that note as I think about it ensure that when you are walking your dog in public and if you know your dog to be particularly anxious around the subject to fireworks then make sure you lead and collar or harness is well-fitted that your dog cannot slip them. Dog harnesses are prone to being slipped on dog especially if the dog is writhing and rearing up and getting itself in a bit of a state. So consider a little coupling link. They are usually about 6, 8 inches long and that goes from the body harness on to the neck collar. So if the harness comes off, the collar right there is your backstop. So make sure that collar is really snug, not too tight but snug.
Number four: Masking the sound of fireworks for your dog.
Obviously, within the home. Now, consider doing things such as putting the TV on, play some music especially if your animals are left home alone. And this can really make a big difference. So closing curtains and windows, muffling the sound as much as possible is going to be a key way for you. OK?
Dogs I think if they are used to it can tolerate fairly high TV sound levels without turning a blind eye as many of you may well know. But if they start to sense the sounds of fireworks or pops and bangs in the midst of that, that can be off-putting for your dog. So think about what you can do especially if you are not home to mask those sounds. OK?
Number five: Don't walk your dogs during fireworks.
This is really a bit of an elaboration on number three but it’s again, emphasising not to walk your dogs at night especially fireworks are going off at that time of day rather. So think about giving your dogs longer walks during the day. Avoid walking your dogs at night. OK?
Number six: Distractions for your dog during fireworks.
OK. So provide your dog with plenty of chews and toys. Now, I’ll elaborate again on this later on because this comes under the thoughts of desensitisation because actually, it stands to reason that if we can desensitise our dogs to those pops and bangs then actually you will need to worry less about masking the noise and to think a little bit more in the sense of where you are walking and when. All right?
So distractions, you can provide them. It’s very much dependent upon the dog but you can give them what you know your dog enjoys. So this depends very much on your dog. But any sort of chews, toys that they can keep distracted on, some dogs are much, much more playful than others. Out of my three, Max and Pete, they enjoy a chew but they’re not terribly play-based whereas little Ruby, she loves to play and she loves to chew. She loves her toys and so that for her will be a relatively easy and a no-brainer in the sense that we don’t have to think too much about what we are actually providing her with.
Number seven: Stick to your routine for your dog.
Maintain your routine and try to keep all other routines as normal as possible. So feeding times, try to keep those as regular as possible because this can help reduce stress for your dog. OK?
Number eight: Preparing in advance of fireworks for your dog.
Now, I’m going to dwell on this last element longer than the others because even though I am presenting this podcast in the spirit of look, if your dog suffers from this particular problem and you suffer from it as well because if your dog suffers, well, you will go through very much a lot of anxiety as you see your dog anxious as well. So now is the time to prepare. And how do we do that?
Well, I could present this to you as a bit of recipe as I often think in terms of recipes for certain behaviours with our dogs. To address the subject of anxiety with fireworks, I may come up with a four or five, six-point heading as a recipe for your to address that over time.
So in this particular instance, if I’m presented with a case of dealing with anxiety with a dog around the subject to fireworks, I would be looking to do as much as possible to desensitise the dog to those things. But how do you do that when those things are only being lit off at certain times of the year and you don’t really have that control? Well, that can be overcome by playing the CD.
Now on the CD, it has actually a wide range of sounds. We have 30 different tracks on here and the first 8 ranges from firework variations numbers one to three. Then we have a professional firework display. Number five, we have not fireworks but related and I think it’s worth doing because people in rural locations will be able to relate to this. So we have thunder and lightning. More specifically to rural locations, gunfire, shotguns, and crow scarers.
So those are things we are thinking about. Going off a slight tangent on the CD, we then have transport. So we have trains, trams, tubes, planes, helicopters, hot air balloons, a few of you out there will be able to relate to your dog’s behaviour on hot air balloons, motorbikes, buses, emergency vehicles. OK?
Then we have the section of household. So under that is we have lawnmower, washing machine, and vacuum cleaner. And finally, children playing, babies crying, and crowds and parties. So I’ll say not strictly fireworks but the main sections, numbers 1 to 8, you could just play those on a loop or just use those only and that’s the sort of thing I would play back to back.
Now, every dog is different but when we are playing the CD to the dog, you need to ensure you are playing it through a decent sound system. I once visited a lady and she was playing this CD on a very small and cheap little CD player, a CD slapped at the top with a single player at the front. And the simple point I’m making here is that it was nowhere near good enough to actually replicate the sound. The dog wasn’t at all bothered by that.
However, when we took the CD and put it in the owner’s DVD player and you may not all know but most DVD players will play music CDs. And then it was being played out through the amplifier and the TV speakers. That is much more likely to be a more accurate sound for your dog and that is more likely to elicit your dog’s anxieties around the sound of fireworks.
So we then need to do this in a very controlled way. I’m trying to take this sort of step-by-step so I don’t overlook anything but equally, I don’t want to – this is a sort of subject I could easily spend two or three hours on and I’m trying to convey this in 30 minutes. But you need to in the beginning play this at an absolute bear minimum volume. So start at number one. Keep a note of each session.
So if your volume control has numbers, use or rather keep a note of the number your dog could cope with volume-wise. So it may be number 1 or 2 and maybe just play it for a few minutes especially the first two or three sessions. I would treat those as getting a feel for what your dog can cope with. OK?
Now, what we want to do is to ally the sound of these fireworks with something positive for your dog and that’s where the good old fashion classic Kong comes in. Now, this is a large Kong you can see next to my hand. Most medium-size dogs would be able to manage that quite well. Kongs as you may know come in different colours.
So the red is for, I classify as adult dogs, sort of average chewers. You can get pink and bluey colours. They tend to be much smaller, about half the size of this. Those are for puppies because they are much smaller and softer. We then go up to black which is much more solid and dense for sort of maybe Bullmastiff type dogs and they can be really quite large. And I also become familiar with some colours that they do for senior dogs and those from memory tend to be like a darker blue or a purple colour.
So just be aware of the different colours. But for most dogs, the medium or the large Kong classic as I’m holding here is perfect. And they can work on these Kongs without too much difficulty.
Now incidentally, I will be providing links to Amazon for these products where you pay the regular price. I am an Amazon affiliate so I make something like 5-6 percent on every product you purchase. But in essence, you pay exactly the same price on Amazon. OK? So that’s the deal with these products, all of which or rather, yes, because some of the products come up. But all of these are available on Amazon.
OK. So the idea is that we take the Kong and we fill it with something amazing. What we fill it with, well, I feed my dogs Forthglade and I personally would divert some of the dog’s daily food allowance into the Kong. OK?
And the nice way – the nice thing about doing it that way is that let’s say for example your dog had a pack or maybe two packs a day of Forthglade. There’s nothing stopping you and the less food your dog has, maybe in a smaller, you might make the Kong. So if it was on a pack of Forthglade a day, I would probably look at the medium size Kong but up to two packs a day or more I would be using the large Kong as I share in this video.
You can then have – rather than just having one Kong in a play session in the morning let’s say, you could be giving your dog three or four Kongs a day where you are playing the sounds of the fireworks to your dog for that session. OK? So you could do some quite intensive work with this.
And because we don’t want to be feeding our dogs endless amounts of for example, peanut butter or some sort of banana and fruit mashed which is all healthy but we can only really give our dog so much of this.
If you have your dog on a soft food such as Forthglade, it’s a perfect consistency for putting in the home and then not only are we doing our desensitisation work with our dog, we are also getting through the dog’s daily food allowance which is a smart way of working.
Now, if you discover your dog is particularly tenacious on the Kong, you could fill the Kong with the moist food, drop it into a plastic bag and then freeze it. And so if you had maybe two or three of these Kongs, you could have one in use, one in the freezer, and then one in the wash let’s say. So you could be just soaking it and keeping it clean. So two or three of them is a useful idea incidentally.
So coming back to the plan, we are making some assumptions so forgive me but because I realised that not all dogs are massively food-driven, there are other avenues we can go then for dogs in those situations. You are welcome to contact me if you find that this plan is too idealistic. But this is the plan I present to you today because for the vast majority of dogs, this is effective. But it does take time and effort. OK?
So we have the Kong. We have the Forthglade food. We have our CD. You put the CD on extremely low volumes and you need to observe your dog’s reaction to that volume. You then present it with a Kong, stuffed with a Forthglade and then you can allow the dog to work on that food.
For the first session, just give it 5 minutes. And then I would aim to build that up very gradually. Your dog will dictate a little the speed at which you build this up. But I would aim for something like 5 minutes to begin with and then you could get into 7, 8 minutes, 10 minutes, 12, 15 minutes, you see where I’m going, 17, 20, 25, 30, up to the point where you may be able to give your dog. It’s somewhat dependent on how long it takes to work on the Kong. Incidentally, there’s nothing stopping you giving your dog more than one Kong per session.
So there are lots of variables here. Use good common sense. Think around the problem because every case is different. And of course with my private customers, I can discuss these individual cases but we may well not have that luxury. So up to about 30 minutes I think would be long enough for a given single session.
Over each consecutive session, you are looking to increase the volume bit by bit until you would consider that volume not to be excessively loud but loud enough so you think, “Well, that’s pretty similar to what my dog is experiencing to outside fireworks.” All right?
So, those are the main elements, the main ingredients if you like, the Kong, the CD, the food to put in your Kong, keeping a logbook of each and every session, making sure that you only gradually build the volume over each session. OK?
So that’s my basic recipe for you and that has been and continues to be very effective for the majority of dogs. And so, that’s the real solution that I offer you to help. Begin introducing your dog to these things in a more calm, controlled manner.
The beauty with the CD is that you decide when to turn it on and when to turn it off and at what volume you think your dog can manage at. And so, we very, very gradually work our way up that ladder of volume in keeping with your dog’s more relaxed position that you will be able to observe. If your dog can’t eat the Kong due to anxiety, that – but you know your dog is really into the Kong then that in itself is a good indication that you may be going too fast. It might be a particular track you need to be careful with.
So just always observing – this isn’t like a computer program where we can just keep uploading fresh information. Our dogs are of course organic creatures with their own senses and sensibilities and we need to work with that. We can’t really force it although having said that, we can sort of Chevy along a bit and speed up the process as you see fit. OK?
So let me just check my list here. Yup. Now, if a Kong – if this classic Kong isn’t working and let’s say your dog is on a dried food and your dog is particularly avid or particularly keen for dried food, you could look at what’s called Kong wobbler. That is a much larger device with a weighted base. You twist it apart. You can put your dried food in, put it back together, and your dog has to push that around and it sort of wobbles over. It releases food and then self-right. It rights itself. OK? So, that may be another good option for you. OK?
Alternatively, if for example, you knew your dog was completely devoted to a nice, fresh bone then that could be considered as well. Or if you knew that your dog was particularly keen on some form of dried, awful, or something of that nature, that could work.
And so finally, you could also look at some supplementation. Now, two supplements I would like you to consider. One is a nutritional supplement that you can only purchase this through a vet’s practice but it is called Nutracalm. I’ve had some very good feedback from this product over the last couple of years. If you look on Nutravet, I believe it is .co.uk, you should be able to see their range of products and local stockists. I have no affiliation to Nutravet, but the product is a good one.
A herbal common remedy I’ve had good feedback from over the years is called Scullcap & Valerian. Now, this product is also available on Amazon. And I will place a link in the show description notes for you. So do check that out as well.
It’s fair to say that Scullcap & Valerian will be a lot cheaper than a Nutracalm, but I think I would personally go for Nutracalm first and if you either can’t get a hold of that or feel that it’s too expensive, I think from memory, you may be looking at paying today but it’s something that you give over a time-limited period so you may be looking at two or three months’ worth of providing that supplement. So it sits alongside your practical efforts. Please bear in mind that any supplementation you use is not in my experience enough in itself to address the problem. You really need to be looking at desensitisation as your primary method and then any supplementation is seen as an adjunct to your desensitising efforts.
OK. So let’s wrap it up there. I try to keep it to half an hour so I’m not too far over. And naturally, if you have any questions on the subject, please put them to me. You can contact me directly via my website contact page, which is www.AlphaDogBehaviour.co.uk/contact.
A list of the products I refer to in this post can be found below, where you will be taken to Amazon:
Scullcap & Valerian.
Until my next episode, be sure to have fun with your dogs and take care. Thank you for watching. Thank you for listening.