Bonfire night: 7 tips to keep your dog safe and calm
Oli Juste, London based dog trainer & behaviourist, shares how you can best care for your dog on Bonfire Night when fireworks might cause your dog to become stressed, fearful, or run away.
Here’s a common dog parent New Year’s resolution. “By autumn, I will have helped my dog cope better with fireworks.” Then the year flies by, and before you know, it’s time for “remember, remember the 5th of November.” Then it’s fireworks season again, starting with Bonfire Night and going on (much to our four-legged friends’ grief) up until the New Year. Feeling concerned? Trust me, you’re not alone. Half of all dogs suffer from noise phobia and fear of fireworks. Luckily, there’s a few things you can do about it.
What is Bonfire Night?
Bonfire Night, also known as Guy Fawkes Night, is a UK tradition that takes place each year on November 5. It is a night of celebration, when people gather to enjoy bonfires, fireworks, sparklers, and sweets like toffee apples. Bonfire Night also marks the anniversary of Guy Fawkes and his comrades attempting to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Often called the Gunpowder Plot, this series of fiery events took place in 1605¹.
Since then, the British are keen to continue celebrating this day with fire galore. While this might be enjoyable for us human folks, our furry friends often suffer on this day.
As a dog trainer & behaviourist, I want to provide you with some helpful tips for how to keep a dog calm on Bonfire Night.
What to do with dogs on Bonfire Night
1. Learn to identify signs of stress in your dog
First, it’s good to make sure you know what stress and fear in dogs look like, so you can monitor your companion’s behaviour and make sure it doesn’t get worse. Your dog could be running to hide under the bed or clambering on top of you, pacing up and down, and sometimes peeing or pooing in the house when fireworks go off. But there could also be some less obvious signs, such as panting, yawning, licking their nose and lips and what’s called ‘whale eye’, where the whites of their eyes show like a crescent moon. You can check out more signs of stress through my videos online.
2. Be calm and reassure your dog during fireworks
Since dogs are scared of fireworks, try to occupy them with something they like. Research suggests that dogs who regularly play with people are less likely to be anxious, so play games with them. Food-dispensing toys are great, but it’s best to be personally involved, so make sure to engage with your dog and the game.
3. Don’t ignore your dog
Regardless of what your dog is fearful of, it is always totally appropriate to reassure them. Contrary to popular belief, this will not “reinforce the fear”. As long as you are not acting out of the ordinary, of course, and forcing them to do something they don’t want to do.
4. Create a ‘safe place’ at home
It could be a crate (if your dog already thinks of it as a safe place), under your bed, a corridor away from windows, wherever your dog is happy. Let them decide. The Tractive GPS also has a feature called Virtual Fence that lets you get alerts in case your dog leaves a space you’ve marked as safe, such as your garden.
5. Keep TV, radio or music on
Reggae is great and has been known to help dogs stay calm! You can even find ‘Reggae for dogs’ on certain music streaming platforms. Research found that while classical music had an initial calming effect on dogs, after a few days they became bored. Instead, Reggae and soft rock came out as the best genres for reducing stress, barking and heart rates².
In short: Don’t worry, play Reggae.
6. Provide extra care for old dogs
Fear can also get worse with age. So, if your dog’s fear of noise or fireworks started in your dog’s later years, you should definitely talk to your vet. Medical support could really help, or at least be part of the solution. For example, thyroid issues can also influence fear, anxiety and noise phobia. So, it’s always worth getting your vet to check for these too. Teamwork makes the dream work! Read more about panting and shaking in old dogs.
7. Don’t let your dog outdoors
During and around the Bonfire Night season, avoid letting your dog outdoors at times when fireworks are likely to go off, usually starting from dusk onward. Have your walks and visits to the park earlier in the day. Secure your garden and house, as some dogs may try to escape, and make sure your dog is microchipped and has a collar and tag on. Better yet, get a GPS tracker to avoid worst-case scenarios and find them even if they run off.
Microchipping your dog is now a legal requirement in the UK, as of April 2016.
If your dog is very stressed and you need more help, please speak with a professional positive trainer or a behavioural expert for help. Be your dog’s safe place, remember you must be there for your dog to make them feel safe. Try not to leave them alone in the evenings.
It’s really worth supporting your dogs in situations like these, because as they say at Tractive: “True love knows no bounds”.
For more tips on bonfire night with a dog, check out the following video:
This is a guest post from London based Oli Juste, Dog Trainer & Behaviourist. Oli provides helpful guidance and dog training for dogs and their owners throughout the UK and Europe. His online 1-on-1 video sessions help dog owners to communicate better with their dogs, bond using positive reinforcement, and gain other helpful insights for raising their dogs in the comfort of their own home. You can read more about Oli here.
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