Dutch New Year’s Eve isn’t all fun and games for our canine friends. Here’s how to prepare them for the stressful night ahead.
Fireworks are only allowed one week a year across the country, meaning that for days before and after December 31, the sky is ablaze with loud explosions and color. Add to that copious amounts of alcohol, and you’ve got yourself a bunch of loud, overexcited folk creating a stressful environment for your poor pooch this Dutch New Year’s Eve.
Even if your dog is safely cooped up indoors, he will likely be a nervous wreck on the night. These severe anxiety attacks can also have long-term behavior sequels. With this in mind, here are some helpful survival tips on how to prepare your home and comfort your dog during New Year’s Eve.
Before the big night
- Get your dog gently used to the sound of fireworks weeks ahead of time (start around September);
- Buy a firework audio CD and play it at gradually higher volumes, always staying within the dog’s comfort zone;
- Ask your local training school about ‘vuurwerk training‘ (fireworks training). It often starts in September;
- Towards the end of December, always carry a pouch of treats, and give a treat after each bang;
- Consult your veterinarian weeks in advance if you would like your pet to be medicated on the night.
Getting your dog through the night
If you have no choice but to have your dog spend New Year’s Eve in the Netherlands, here are a few survival tips you can follow to comfort him throughout the night:
- Do not leave your dog home alone on December 31, especially if you live in an area with intense fireworks activity;
- Have your last walk that night at 10pm at the latest;
- Calmly comfort him if he asks for reassurance, but do not make a fuss;
- Distract your dog with a game during peaks in fireworks activity. Some owners have been known to spend the midnight countdown with a Kong in their hand!;
- Do not punish your dog if it shows unwanted behavior related to its anxiety.
Prepare your home
These simply tips will help you prepare your home and create a soothing environment for your dog:
- Tape shut your letter box flap (teenagers + alcohol + fireworks = many bad ideas);
- Close the curtains or blinds so your dog cannot see the the bright explosions of color outside;
- Stay close to your dog and make sure there is no opportunity for him to leave the home and run away:
- Leave soothing music on; it is likely that the TV will also show fireworks that night!
Losing pets on New Year’s Eve
The last week of December is one of the busiest periods for pet ambulances and dog shelters in the Netherlands. In the likely event that your dog should run away, this is what could happen.
He or she:
- Causes a traffic accident and causes material damage, or worse;
- Gets injured, or worse;
- Bites someone in his panicked state;
- Gets permanently lost (note: panicked dogs can run very far);
- Escapes and hides under a bush through the freezing night, with the near certainty of hypothermia.
Don’t let Rover be a statistic!
- ALWAYS walk your dog on the leash during the last week of December and the first week of January;
- Ensure your dog is tagged and chipped (this is mandatory for dogs in the Netherlands);
- Lock all potential escape routes on the night (e.g., garden gate, dog flap, front door, and so on).
Medicating your dog
Medicating your dog should really be a last resort for fireworks anxiety. Medication is not ideal, as it can drastically reduce the animal’s motor skills, while not completely eliminating anxiety. Imagine having to face your phobia with your legs temporarily paralysed!
However, if there is no alternative, a gentle and gradual desensitisation approach is strongly advisable; or a combination of medication and desensitisation. If your pet does require medication, you will need to contact you veterinarian weeks in advance, not on December 30.
Medication is appropriate if:
- There is no time to desensitise the pet to fireworks. Please start the programme in September next year at the latest;
- The anxiety is too extreme to even start a desensitisation programme.
These are the two most popular medications that get prescribed by Dutch veterinarians around the fireworks season:
- Alprazolam (Xanax for humans). It is an anxiolytic (it reduces nervous excitement). Owners and veterinarian should experiment with dosage weeks in advance. Once the ideal dosage is known, it should start to be administered a couple of days before the fireworks night;
- Clomicalm. It is an antidepressant (mood elevator). It takes the edge off anxiety symptoms, but it can make the dog lethargic.