For many people in the UK, the next few weeks can be an exciting time. With dressing up, party games, toffee apples and other sweet treats, the nights around this time of year can be a way for some to accept the changing of the clocks, and to say goodbye to daylight for a while.
But for dog owners, Halloween and Firework season can be a nightmare that is all too real.
According to RSPCA research, around 45% of dogs are fearful of fireworks. And it’s easy to forget that Halloween can be a very stressful time for our pets too. With strange costumes, masks and lots of visitors and commotion, Halloween can be just as stressful as the weeks around Bonfire Night.
RSPCA Scientific Officer Lisa Richards says “As the winter months draw in many of us look forward to going to local bonfire and fireworks festivities. The RSPCA want to make sure the enjoyment is for everyone – as animals may become distressed or confused at what is happening.”
So we asked some of our followers on Twitter what they thought.
Whilst a number of owners said that their dogs were fine with fireworks (including one who likes to try and catch fireworks at the window), more than half of the people we asked said that their dogs show increased signs of stress at this time of year.
“It is a pity there isn’t limited supply for fireworks or just organised displays only the weekend before and after the 5th November as I don’t know any animal lover that doesn’t dread this time of year”
“I loathe fireworks myself and think their public sale should be banned for all of us, not just pets. I have signed several petitions to this effect”
Our followers were overwhelmingly in favour of limiting or banning the sale of fireworks to individuals, and many felt that only publicly organised displays should be allowed. A common problem is that once fireworks go on sale, they are set off almost every night through to New Year, causing weeks of stress to our family members – both furry and human. With an estimated 9 million dogs in the UK, accounting for around 24% of households, this is clearly not a small issue. But petitions registered with Parliament gain few signatures, and many are rejected because there are competing petitions on the subject. It feels that a debate in Parliament, let alone any action, is a long way off.
“Last year I was walking him to a local shop & a firework went up from a back garden. He dug his heels in & wouldn’t walk forward any more. The shop was only another 100 yards but I had to turn around & go home. For about 4 months after he wouldn’t walk past this house”
So what can we do? Well the short answer is that there is no simple solution. However, we’ve put together our top 5 tips based on the advice of experienced owners to help you through the next few weeks – so have an experiment and let us know if you find any of these useful:
- You can download a poster to prevent Trick or Treaters from calling
Most local police forces create a poster that you can download and put on your door or in your window. Thames Valley Police offer a wide variety of signs that politely ask people not to call round. One of our followers tells us that this has been really effective, saying “out of the 3 years we have done that, we’ve only had one person knock”.
When it comes to Halloween costumes, think carefully about whether your dog really enjoys the dressing up experience. Some will be absolutely fine with it, and perhaps even enjoy the extra attention and excitement. But others will find dressing up stressful. Look for signs of anxiety, and make sure your pet is completely happy.
- Go for an extra long walk before it gets dark
It can be difficult to find the time with the evenings drawing in, but a lot of people tell us that they try to take their dogs for an extra long walk in the afternoon. Tiring them out with toys and games just before it gets dark can settle them early and off to sleep. With the TV or radio turned up a little bit and the curtains drawn, many owners find that their dogs sleep through, and may only see one ear go up every so often.
- Establish a safe place or den
A lot of owners tell us that their pups have an established spot that they like to go to. But if your dog paces and is very unsettled, think about building them a den in advance. One of our followers uses a small pop up tent, with their pet’s bedding and toys inside. It’s comforting for their dog, and with familiar objects around them it’s an effective combination.
In this video, vet Marc Abraham talks about how and when to build a den, plus advantages of using diffusers.
- Be as normal as you can
Ok, so having a pop up tent in your living room isn’t exactly normal, we get that. But being as normal as you can be around your dog at this time can really help them cope. Distraction is a perfectly effective way to help your dog with anxiety, but it’s equally important to remain calm and not react to what’s going on outside.
Many owners have told us that with new or young dogs, this can be challenging for everyone in the household to begin with, but in the long run it’s very effective: “When firework sounds started the first year we had her we consciously ignored them. This was quite hard at first especially in view of Beatrice’s reactions previously which had been very hard for us to watch. However we made no comment or other reaction and neither did she. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed her looking at us a couple of time trying to gauge our reaction of what was happening – but as nothing was, she simply relaxed and ignored it.”
Of course for some dogs just being left alone in their safe place is all they ask. As one owner told us “By me staying calm and just going about my evening, staying with them but not over fussing them and not reacting to the fireworks myself, they are slowly becoming less nervous”. So if they prefer to stay in their safe place, the advice is let them. Check every so often and try not to fuss over them, as this can reinforce the anxiety.
- Diffusers, collars and anxiety products can work… for some
The jury is firmly out on this one among our followers, but these products can be effective – it just comes down to your individual dog. Most people we spoke to who had tried these products found that they were more effective on Halloween, as the disturbance and anxiety were at lower levels than during Fireworks. But the vast majority of owners didn’t think they knew enough about them or were sceptical. Always speak to your vet if you are considering any form of medicinal treatment. Some ‘off the shelf’ remedies have been shown not to reduce anxiety at all, but the ability of your dog to respond to fear, making the whole experience even worse for them. Your vet will offer you the best advice and options if your dog is especially anxious, or for prolonged periods of stress.
And finally, it goes without saying, but make sure your pet is micro-chipped and check your gates before going to bed.
You can find more useful information at the RSPCA and PDSA:
And if you have any feedback, please do get in touch via @ChewAndChase