Combating fear of fireworks

Fireworks season is upon us, and the unguided missiles are already whistling, whooshing and popping everywhere. We went to our vet to find out how to help our scared schnauzer friend

There are three types of dogs when it comes to fireworks: the sleeper-through, the chaser and the phonophobe. The first two types of dogs are pretty easy to deal with – keep snoozing and keep chasers on the lead. But, for those with a fear of loud noises, this is a terrible time of year.
Dogs’ hearing is about four times more sensitive than that of humans, and they are able to filter certain sounds, which explains why the sounds of the fridge door opening can still get through to your dog despite the disco going on in the living room.
During fireworks season, that hearing is a curse, particularly for those breeds are that are hypersensitive to noise, among them schnauzers, Boston terriers, chihuahuas and miniature pinschers. These poor pups can sense the vibration of noise, making even distant fireworks going off terrifying.

Wunderdog canine editor Pippa is luckily between a sleeper and a chaser, but we often look after our good friend, miniature schnauzer Pearl, during the Bonfire Night celebrations, hoping that Pippa’s calm presence – read “snooze” – makes a difference. Pearl visits us so often – we’re practically her second home – and our house is on a quiet street. Still, Pearl shakes like a leaf and pants during fireworks nights, so we asked out vet, David Rubiera Conesa at MediVet, what we could do to help her.
“The main thing is that owners get stressed,” David says. “They change the day-to-day routine, and the dog knows something is wrong. Even when you make a nest somewhere in the house for the dog to hide in during fireworks, the dog knows something is wrong.”

 Pippa shows Pearl her relaxation technique
Pippa shows Pearl her relaxation technique

If you believe change is good, change to something positive – an extra piece of chicken or a play session with the favourite toy might help associate fireworks with a treat. If that doesn’t work, the next step up might be drugs, although David is careful: “Things like Adaptil (a range of calming products that use pheromones) or Zylkène (a similar product derived from milk protein casein) can work and have no side effects.
“But sedatives can make things even worse. Imagine when humans take drugs. You might still hear the fireworks but you can’t move, because your body is paralysed. You freak out – and it’s the same for dogs.”

David is a great fan of the Scary Sounds sound therapy recordings by the Dogs Trust. The programme consists of four tracks to get pets used to the noises of fireworks, which should be played initially at low volume and gradually increase over a few weeks. The idea is that the pet learns that these noises don’t harm them.

If an adult dog has heard it all before, build your pooch a nest, muffle the sound as much as possible and let your dog do what it needs to do. Drugs may not be the answer. Wunderdog hopes that a calm friend with a relaxed routine helps, and we’ll stock up on chicken for Pearl’s next visit.

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