In the early days with our dogs I used to hate this time of the year coming up to Guy Fawkes night. I resented those neighbours (and the Council!) for setting off fireworks that would spook our dogs. Where we are in Paisley, the back of our house looks towards Paisley Abbey. Every 5th November, or the Saturday nearest to it, for half an hour, the noise from the fireworks would sound like a 3rd world war. Our dogs would run and hide and cower for the whole time. We’d put on Classic FM (our dogs like classical music!) and hope that the noise would be over quickly.
In the weeks leading up to bonfire night I’d be out with the dogs hoping that they wouldn’t be spooked by a random firework going off. On one occasion, I was out with our black lab, Jack, off lead, when a firework exploded nearby. He took off and raced home. I found him cowering by the front door.
Fortunately for us, and our dogs, we came across Amichien Bonding which gave us a method to help the dogs deal with their fear. No drugs or gadgets are required, just understanding the dogs’ needs and what to do in this situation. The dogs are naturally reacting to a danger that they don’t understand. They will look to us to decide what to do about it, if we don’t provide the correct decision making, or we react with fear ourselves, the dogs will take on that decision making role.
Hear are some simple things to do to help your dogs with fireworks:
- Avoid walking your dogs during the worst times of the fireworks.
- If the dogs need the toilet take them into the garden, or to somewhere nearby where they toilet, early in the evening before the fireworks start, or late at night when the fireworks have finished.
- In the early days try and stay in on fireworks night.
- Put on some gentle music, or the TV, to provide some background sound. It won’t block out the noise of the fireworks, but it will lessen the effects.
- Close the curtains and create a safe space.
- Try and do something quiet yourselves: watch TV or read a book, etc.
- Allow the dog access to the place that it runs and hides to.
- If a firework goes off don’t make a fuss, continue doing what you’re doing.
- If the dog reacts to a firework, ignore the dog, let it run to its hiding place and leave it alone.
- If the dog comes out of its hiding place ignore it and don’t make a fuss.
- If the dog is in the room, is calm and has left you alone, try calling it over. If it comes first time, make a fuss of it, otherwise ignore it.
- Most importantly, remain calm yourself.
The dog will look to you for a reaction. If you make none you will not be affirming its fear. At some point its natural curiosity will take over, and if you’re not reacting to fireworks it will have no reason to.
We implemented this with our dog Jenna after listening to an audio recording on fireworks by Jan Fennell and her son, Tony Knight. Our red and white collie, Jenna, was always very nervous during the period leading up to Guy Fawkes night and for the week or so afterwards. On the worst nights, particularly when the Council firework display was on, she would run and hide. We’d learnt by that stage to leave her alone, but didn’t realise that we could help her overcome her fear.
On this particular Saturday, we set the living room up: the curtains were shut, Classic FM was on the radio and my wife, Anne, and I were reading. The dogs were relaxed in the room with us until at 6:30pm the first bang went off. Jenna shot off (excuse the pun!) into the hall and hid in her crate (which we’d covered). Our other collie, Sally, on the other hand wasn’t too bothered by the fireworks and stayed with us.
Paisley’s fireworks are pretty spectacular (and pretty noisy!) and I was curious to see them myself. I’d remembered Tony Knight telling a story how he’d allowed the natural curiosity of his own dogs to overcome their fear and come to the window where he was watching some fireworks.
I decided to test out that theory with Jenna, I opened the curtains and stood by the window. The door from the living room to the hall was still open and, after about 5 minutes, Jen trotted to the door of the living room. She stayed there briefly until another particularly big bang went off and she scuttled back to her crate. I was amazed as I’d never seen that behaviour in Jenna before. Needless to say, I completely ignored her during the episode, but watched her reflection in the window.
After a few more minutes passed, Jenna came back into the room, this time a bit further in. Another firework went off and she ran back to her crate. Jenna repeated this process 2 or 3 more times until she was up at the window with me. She could now see the fireworks as well as hear them. She ran away one more time when another big bang went off. However, for the final 5 minutes of the display she stayed with me watching the fireworks. She had her paws up on the window sill, which I would not normally allow uninvited, but in this circumstance I just felt it best to do nothing.
For the last couple of years, Anne and I have set up the living room in the same way, but these days I have invited Jenna and Sally to join us at the window. After a while Jenna gets down from the window and goes to lie down (it’s quite tiring for her to balance on her back 2 legs for too long).
It just goes to show that when we don’t react to something our dogs won’t as well, as long as they’re looking to us for decisions. Then when their natural curiosity overcomes their fear, magic happens!