Imagine the excitement of gathering around a large bonfire with friends and family, watching fireworks explode into glittering streamers across the night’s sky. Now imagine every fizz, pop and bang sending you into a state of terror, making you want to run away as far and as fast as possible. This is what many dogs experience when fireworks are lit.
Our worlds differ because of different sensory capacities. You may see your dog prick up his ears, only to find there is nothing audible to you. Although your dog’s process of hearing is the same as yours, their ear structure is different. You can hear sounds between 20 and 20,000 hertz whereas your dog hears a wider range, which may be double the range you can hear in the higher frequencies. Your dog is also better able to orientate to sound sources.
Bonfire Night stimulates several senses: sound, smell and sight. Helping your dog cope means reducing sensory input. Find a quiet place where he feels safe and reduce auditory stimulation with music. Simple melodies specifically designed to calm your canine play at 60 beats per minute, which is the same as the resting heartbeat. Olfactory stimulation can be lowered with scents. Diffusers are available that contain a synthetic appeasing pheromone or essential oil blend which enhances the production of GABA, a calming neurotransmitter. Lessen visual stimulation by closing the curtains. Stay with your dog, perhaps give him a relaxing massage or some TTouch ear work. Introduce your dog to coping strategies well before the event.
Animal behaviour expert Dr Temple Grandin has a particularly unusual insight into animal behaviour. She is autistic. Autism and sensory overload often go hand in hand. Dr Grandin built herself a ‘squeeze’ machine that helped her feel more secure, since pressure contact helps release the calming neurotransmitter oxytocin. ThundershirtsTM are the canine equivalent.
Each dog is individual and what is effective for one may not be so effective for another. Find out what your dog enjoys, spend time learning massage strokes, listening to music, enjoying relaxing scents and being ‘in the moment’ together. Preparation for bonfire night can relax you both!
The comments in this article are the views of the author. If you are worried about your dog’s ability to cope with bonfire night, please visit your veterinary surgeon.
Through a Dog’s Ear www.throughadogsear.com
Perry Wood Music for Pets available from www.amazon.co.uk
Pet Remedy www.petremedy.co.uk
T Touch www.ttouch.com
Grandin, T & Johnson, C (2006). Animals in Translation. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, London, UK.
Lees & & Wagner S (2008). Through A Dog’s Ear. Sounds True, Canada.
Tod et al (September 2005). Efficacy of dog appeasing pheromone in reducing stress and fear related behaviour in shelter dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Volume 93, issue 3, pages 295-308.
Wagner, S et al (2004). BioAcoustic Research & Development Canine Research Summary.
Wells, D. L., et al (2002). The Influence of Auditory Stimulation on the Behaviour of Dogs Housed in a Rescue Shelter. Animal Welfare 11 (2002): 385-393.