As Winter arrives and brings with it cold, crisp days and evenings, we all look forward to wintry walks, fancy dress, parties, bonfires, fireworks and possibly a tipple or two…! For our four-legged friends though, the Autumn/Winter season can be a minefield of stress and anxiety.
The end of October brings with it streets full of noisy children (and adults!) dressed as clowns, zombies, witches and ghosts. They make funny noises and carry with them bags and buckets of sweet smelling treats which dogs can be tempted to steal. Not content with roaming the streets and spooking our dogs, these strangely dressed creatures then begin to knock on doors and ring door bells, shouting loudly as the door is opened. Dogs are torn between hiding from the confusing costumes and noises and feeling that they must defend their property and family. This confusion may cause the dog to growl and bark more than it may usually do and will inevitably lead them to feel stressed and anxious.
Often people will host house parties at Halloween which can be highly stressful and confusing for dogs. Halloween also signals the start of the festive party season and inevitably, the first rumblings of fireworks.
In November, as the clocks go back an hour, dogs face endless evenings of loud, unexpected bangs, lights and bright flashes in the sky from fireworks which send them scurrying under the bed or behind the sofa. These are rarely limited to 5th November – often starting in late October and continuing until 1am on 1st January!
Christmas and New Year
It doesn’t end there…as Christmas approaches, the homes that our dogs know, love and feel secure in are suddenly filled with huge trees, fairly lights and every surface is adorned with decorations. Cue a stream of parties, visitors, late nights and drunk house guests!
All of this is rounded off at New Year’s Eve when those anxiety-creating fireworks return.
None of us want our dogs to suffer and spotting signs of fear, panic and anxiety in dogs and taking sensible precautions to protect them is important to us all. Signs may include (but are not limited to):
· Trembling and shaking
· Tail tucking
· Hiding and retreating to safe spaces
· Reduced activity
· Destructive behaviour
· Aggressive behaviour
· Refusing to eat or loss of appetite
· Excessive yawning or licking
· Panting if they are not warm
· Toileting ‘accidents’ because they are too scared to follow normal routines
· Generally acting and behaving out of character
Luckily, there are some simple and effective ways that you can help to calm your dogs, reduce their anxiety and prevent them from attempting to escape this season.
Reduce exposure as much as possible
Costumes, noises, confusing decorations and piles of sweet treats which they are forbidden to eat! Even the best behaved dogs will have their behaviour challenged under these circumstances. Remove them from the situation completely wherever possible. Do not take them trick or treating with you and ask someone else to care for them while you host or attend parties.
If your dog is particularly anxious you could consider deterring trick or treaters, carol singers and anyone else who might come knocking on your door. Place a polite notice on your front door asking them to refrain from knocking or ringing the bell.
Keep them in a safe place
Put your dogs in a secure and comfortable room or place in the house where they can have their own bed, blanket, toys and fresh water with them and can lie down and relax in peace. A table draped with a blanket can make a great place to hide away and allow you dog to feel safe. If they usually sleep in a crate you could cover it and leave it open for them. Do not lock them in to or confine them in a space as this will only add to their stress. It may be that your dog is more comfortable sitting or sleeping in their usual place close to you. Look out for the signs of anxiety listed above and judge where your dog appears to be most happy.
Introduce them to any new spaces a few days prior to anticipated events to ensure that they have time to adjust to the room or space and associate it with safety and security. The room you choose should be as far away as possible from the source of the noise and from the front door if there are likely to be lots of visitors. Either spend time in the room with them or check on them regularly and try to accompany them on toilet breaks in case of unexpected loud bangs or noises outside which could cause them to attempt to escape. Always ensure that your dog is micro-chipped in the event that their escape attempt it successful and they can be easily tracked back to you and safely returned.
If you have relatives or friends who live in a more rural location or who don’t have plans it might we worth asking them to dog-sit and removing your dog from the situation completely.
Minimise exposure to lights
Always draw the curtains or cover the windows to minimise the lights from the fireworks or activity outside.
It’s not only the sound of fireworks that can cause distress for dogs, it’s also the light and flashes across the sky. Leave lights on indoors to reduce the impact of the flashes too.
Manage your own reactions
If your dog can see that you are not visibly affected by fireworks they may take their lead from you and this could decrease their anxiety
Our dogs are sensitive and tuned in to our reactions. They will notice if you are behaving different or appear to be stressed or anxious. Reassure your dog by playing with them and keeping your behaviour as normal as possible.
Keep up to date
Do your research and find out when firework displays are planned in your local area and at what times. This will allow you to plan in advance and adopt a different routine for your dog to reduce their anxiety.
Secure outdoor areas
Make sure your home and garden are secure and that opportunities for dogs to escape are minimised.
Close all doors and windows firmly, locking them where appropriate.
Secure any possible escape routes in your garden or outside space and alert anyone in the house to the need to firmly secure doors, windows and gates.
Whichever room your dog is in, turn on the TV or some calming music (classical music can be particularly relaxing!) at a volume which will muffle or drown the outside noises completely. Make sure that whatever TV programme or music you choose is calming and not full of loud noises of its own! You can now even get hold of soothing music and DVDs which are specially designed to reduce anxiety in dogs and other pets.
Keep people informed
Once you have settled your dog and they seem as calm as possible, secure the room that they are in. If you are hosting a party in your home, inform guests of the dogs location in the house and ask them not to disturb them and to be conscious of noise levels if they happen to be in that area of the house.
It is possible to use exposure techniques to help your dog with their anxiety. Gradually exposing them to some of the noises that can cause them anxiety may help, eventually, to reduce their stress and to associate the sounds with something positive, rather than a reason to be scared or attempt to escape.
This approach will take time and you may wish to enlist the help of a dog trainer or behaviourist to support you in this.
Exercise your furry friend in the afternoon, before darkness descends, to reduce their anxiety. This way you will reduce encounters with costumes, fireworks and late night revellers! Ensure that they are well exercised and tired out and they have a good chance of being able to sleep through the noise or, at least, they may be too tired to care! It is also a good idea to consider feeding your dog early too before the fireworks are likely to start as they may be reluctant to eat once the loud noises commence. You should introduce these changes gradually a few weeks prior to the festivities to avoid sudden disruption to your dog’s routine.
Diet and treating
Chamomile is one of the safest herbal pet remedies available. It can act as a sedative and have a calming effect on nerves and stomachs. This amazing herb can also support itchy and inflamed skin, help to relieve conjunctivitis and can have strengthening effects on muscle tissue throughout a dog’s body.
The Barkery UK have created a calming biscuit for dogs which can support anxiety levels and reduce stress. Made with chamomile, oats and fresh apple (and cut in to cute, sleepy cloud shapes!), these tasty treats can help your best friend to cope with the anxiety and stress of the Winter festivities! You can read more about The Barkery UK’s calming bedtime biscuits at: https://www.thebarkery.uk/product-page/calming-bedtime-dog-biscuits
Hiding treats around the room can provide a distraction for your dog and also give them something to focus their attention on. Plus, they get a lovely tasty treat to keep them happy! A long lasting chew can provide them with distraction for a longer period of time – try to find something which will keep them happy and distracted for most of the evening!
Whilst dogs cannot indulge in human chocolate at Halloween or Christmas, they can safely indulge in carob. It has the same smell and taste as chocolate but it completely safe for dogs. It contains vitamins A, B, B1, B2, B3, B6 and D. It is also packed with calcium, iron, magnesium and protein and is a source of fibre and pectin. It can improve digestion, lower cholesterol and treat diarrohea. After all - who doesn’t need chocolate when they are anxious and stressed?!
The Barkery UK has also developed a dog-friendly chocolate biscuit range – find out more here: https://www.thebarkery.uk/healthy-dog-treat
Spotting the signs of anxiety in your dog and putting in place some of these simple measures can ensure that both you and your furry best friend enjoy the festivities!