Veterans, Dogs and Fireworks

Veterans, Dogs and Fireworks

With fireworks going on sale for Bonfire Night, we ask the public to buy silent fireworks instead of noisy ones.

Many former servicemen and women with mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder experience distress at this time of year with the sudden flashes and bangs of fireworks reminding them of the horrors of war.

The following information is provided courtesy of Combat Stress:

We understand that Fireworks can be difficult, so our specialist clinical team gives the following advice:

1. Plan your evening

On days where you know there will be fireworks like Bonfire Night, New Years Eve or a party, being prepared for this can help you cope. You may wish to go out or, if you think that will to be too much, you might prefer to stay at home. Make plans that will ensure your comfort.

2. Identify your triggers

The strong smells and sounds around fireworks can trigger memories. It can be helpful to have competing sensory aid to hand, such as essential oils or soothing music.

3. Breathe

If fireworks are causing anxiety, use your breath to calm your body. Breathe at a pace that feels comfortable and ensure that your out-breaths are long and slow to help calm you down and reduce your anxiety.

4. Stay in the here and now

Identify some things you see around you, focussing on how they look, smell, feel, sound or taste. This can all help bring you into the present and can be helpful if you are feeling zoned out or getting vivid memories.

5. It's good to talk

If you are finding fireworks hard to deal with tell someone close to you and make sure that, if you do go out to an event where there are fireworks you are able to leave whenever you need to.

How to Keep Your Dog Safe & Calm During Fireworks

Dogs have good reasons to fear fireworks. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to help your dog feel safe and secure.

The best way to prepare dogs for fireworks is to think like a dog. They feel scared as they are alarmed by the loud noises of the fireworks but do not understand that fireworks cannot harm them. That’s why they feel safer when they have a hiding space. You can make your dog a ‘safe haven’ or a ‘dog den’. If your dog already has a hiding place then this space can be used, making it as snug and secure for your dog as possible by adding blankets or bedding.

There are many things you can do to help before the night.

Desensitisation and counterconditioning. This is something that needs to be done well away from fireworks time so spring or summer is best.

Safe Havens or Dens

Building a den or safe haven can be beneficial to your dog at all times but especially fireworks. It is a place they can retreat to that will help block out the sounds of the fireworks. But many people leave it too late.

A large dog crate (with enough room for them to sleep stretched out on their side and for some food and water is a good place to start.

You then need to make it appealing for them with a comfy bed and lots of treats/chews and toys.

You can start with just the bed use a positive reward when they will lie on the bed. Then you slowly move the bed closer to the crate and eventually inside the crate.

Keeping the crate open is important as this allows them to option to leave if they want to and avoids any stress. Again, we want this to be a place they like to go, not a place they worry about being shut in.

After they are happy with the crate and use it to relax in you can add the sound proofing. A good thick duvet can really help muffle out the sounds of fireworks.

ADAPTIL Calm Home Diffusers plugged in next to the den sends comforting messages (the same as they get from their mother after birth) that help make the area around the den feel safe, secure and familiar. Dogs have been shown to use their den significantly more when using ADAPTIL Calm compared to a placebo2. You can also use ADAPTIL Transport spray. A few sprays into the den will make sure this certain area is marked as safe. and also

The ADAPTIL Calm On-the-Go collar is the perfect solution if your dog can be nervous out and about. Many dogs sense that fireworks are on their way due to the darker evenings and so walks can become more stressful for them. The collar will also be with them within their den.

If they like it, why not keep it there all the time. A little bit of ‘chill zone’ for them to retreat to!

Talk to your vet or local behaviourist. Many owners forget and leave contacting their vet until the week before fireworks. This limits what they can do to help and even if you want some sedatives sometimes a trial dose is recommended before the night itself to check how well it will work.

Keep Him Inside: Even if your dog spends most of his time outdoors, bring him inside during firework displays. This will prevent him from running away when he feels scared, which can put him in danger.

Try a Calming Wrap: Calming wraps, vests and shirts apply light, constant pressure. Many dogs find this soothing and calming. You may find such products help in other anxiety-inducing situations, like thunderstorms.

Desensitise: Start working with your dog far enough in advance to desensitize him to fireworks and other loud noises. You can start this process by playing fireworks sounds on a low level while playing with your dog and giving him treats. Over time, slowly increase the sound of the fireworks during these play sessions. Eventually, your dog will associate the sound of fireworks with happy and fun moments.

Not all dogs are afraid of fireworks, but it’s important to remember your dog will take cues from you. If you make a big deal out of them when he’s not scared, he may eventually develop anxiety about fireworks. So make an effort to keep your dog calm, but remember to remain calm yourself.