It's never too early to prepare for Bonfire Night
Although Bonfire Night is still a couple of months away, as the nights draw in it is never too early to start preparing your dog for what can be a very stressful time of the year.
Many dogs are afraid of loud noises, such as gunshot and machinery. Fireworks can be especially frightening though, as the sounds are combined with bright flashing lights. This blog post is going to run through some things you can do to help your dog in the run-up to Bonfire Night, whether they are a young puppy who has not yet been exposed to fireworks, or an older dog with an existing fear.
To help your dog feel secure, it is advisable to create a safe space. This should ideally be in an area where the owner(s) will be during the evening. Make sure that the safe space is comfy inside; somewhere the dog would want to spend time ordinarily. A crate is a great idea because you can cover it with a towel or blanket to block out lights, but if this is not an option, then situating the safe space under a table or footstool would be a suitable alternative.
Introducing the safe space should not be left until the last minute; begin as early as possible to encourage the dog to feel relaxed while spending time there. If the dog only associates the space with the fear experienced on Bonfire Night, this defeats the object.
Your dog can either sleep in the safe space, or you may choose to provide them with a chew or a food toy such as a Kong to keep them occupied. If you begin this well in advance, by the time Bonfire Night arrives your dog will feel secure and happy here.
Desensitisation to loud noises can be a lengthy process if your dog is already scared, but is a worthwhile pursuit in the long term, and also fantastic for puppies to prevent them developing fear in the first place. There are CDs and YouTube videos available with a selection of sounds that dogs are commonly afraid of.
The best way to begin desensitisation with these is to have the noise on a very low volume, while reassuring and rewarding your dog. If your dog shows any signs of distress, take a step backward, either by lowering the volume even more, or turning it off completely and allowing your dog to calm down. On the other hand, if your dog is relaxed with the sounds, you may try raising the volume slightly, while continuing to reassure and reward. Take care to maintain a very calm manner during this process, as if you seem worried, the dog is likely to pick up on that. This is something that should be worked on in short, snappy sessions while making sure to end on a good note each time.
Over time, you should be able to gradually build up to having the volume on loud, while your dog remains relaxed. This process should not be rushed, as pushing your dog too far too soon may only add to their fear.
Forward-planning and patience in preparing your dog will make a big difference not just on November 5th, but in other situations with loud and/or frightening noises. Designating a safe space and working on desensitisation are just two methods for dealing with what can be a very scary night for our four-legged friends, and the sooner these are put in place, the more successful an evening Bonfire Night is likely to be.