All dogs are individuals and can become anxious, stressed or over-excitable for a variety of different reasons. Some dogs get very stressed by fireworks, but love car journeys! Other dogs don’t even notice fireworks, but can get stressed by car journeys or vet visits.
1. A tired dog is a calmer dog
This is one of the simplest bits of advice that I have ever been given. It is by no means foolproof, but as a basic concept it is pretty good! If you know that you have a situation coming up where your dog might get over-excited or stressed, give them lots of exercise before hand. My own dog used to get incredibly over-excited when we had guests around to our house. When I knew we had people coming around I would take her out for a long run or walk. This method meant that she simply didn’t have the energy to get too excited when friends turned up. If you have a vet’s appointment booked and this would normally stresses your dog, or if you know there are going to be fireworks going off that night, make sure that during the day your dog gets more exercise that they usually do. That way they will be tired and more likely to relax or sleep through the normally stressful event.
2. Turn a positive into a negative
Dogs learn by association. Often if a dog is scared by a sound like fireworks or events like car journeys, it is because they have had what they perceive as a negative experience with these sounds or events before. Your job is to change a negative association into a positive one. If your dog is scared of car journeys but loves walks in the park, take your dog on some very short car journeys where they get a walk in the park at the end. This will help your dog to start associating car journey with walks in the park, which is something positive. This trick can be slightly harder with fireworks, but you can buy DVDs/ sound recordings of fireworks which are made for this purpose. The way to use these DVDs/ sound recordings is to play them at home, whilst playing with your dog. Soon, your dog will hopefully start to associate the playtime with the sound of fireworks.
There are many ways to use nutrition to help keep your dog calm. Stress is a chemical reaction in your dog’s body which leads to the release of cortisol, ‘the stress hormone’. Nutrition is one of the best ways to control cortisol and therefore control stress. Pooch & Mutt has a range of treats and a grain-free food called “Calm & Relaxed”. The treats contain l-tryptophan – an amino acid that helps the body produce serotonin, the ‘feel good hormone’ as well as valerian and chamomile, which naturally help a dog relax. The treats should be fed over the few days leading up to the stressful event and in the hours before the event. The food is designed to be fed on a long-term basis and is packed full of active ingredients including l-tryptophan, chamomile, b-vitams, probiotics, prebiotics and more, all of which help to keep dogs calm.
4. Distraction and companionship
Your dog should see you as the leader of the pack as you are there to look after them. It is you that they will turn to if they are distressed. If you know that your dog has an issue with fireworks, make sure that you are at home with them on fireworks night. Your responsibility as a carer to your dog is more important than going to a party! When you are at home with your dog and fireworks are going off, you should interact and play with your dog, helping your dog to associate the fireworks noise with a positive event, as mentioned above. Playing with your dog is preferable to comforting your dog, as when you are comforting your dog, you are rewarding their behaviour. This is less of an issue with very rare events, such as fireworks, and more of an issue with regular events, like car journeys. You don’t want to have to comfort your dog on every car journey, you want to get them to start enjoying car journeys.