My dog, Toby, is very scared of fireworks and gets very upset this time of year. What can I do?
This is a common, distressing problem.
Close windows to reduce the noise and draw the curtains to cut out the lights. Have a radio or television on in the background to try to disguise the noise. Try not to leave him alone when fireworks are expected.
Make sure he is secure as he can escape when he is frightened. Make a den, well in advance. This should be an enclosed space where he can feel safe, with his own bedding and toys. If possible, feed him a large, carbohydrate rich meal before the expected event as this can be calming.
Do not punish him when he starts to act fearfully as this will make it worse. Also, do not fuss or cuddle him as this can signal that his fearful behaviour is appropriate and reinforce it. Stay calm yourself and be present with him but try to ignore his unusual behaviour. This can be hard but is the best response for him.
Pheromone plug-ins or collars are available, as is a range of liquids or tablets with L-tryptophan that may help to calm him without sedating him. Strong sedatives are often unhelpful as they make him feel odd without reducing the fear.
If this is not helping, then Toby may be phobic and may need behavioural intervention and desensitisation. Desensitisation is a long process and needs to be started many months in advance and you will need help from your vet and a behavioural therapist.
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