In humans it is called ballistophobia, the fear of fireworks or firearm cartridges. This noise phobia is much more common among dogs. For many four-legged friends, December 31st is the worst day of the year. In this article you will learn more about the connection between stress and nutrition. We also give you 12 tips for New Year’s Eve with a dog.
Why are dogs afraid of New Year’s Eve?
As with humans, there are so-called innate fear triggers in dogs. These are associated with a threat by the dog, even without previous experience. Congenital anxiety triggers are, for example
- strong stimuli
- sudden stimuli
- foreign stimuli
All three descriptions apply to New Year’s Eve rockets and firecrackers. Therefore, it is primarily normal for dogs to react with fear on New Year’s Eve.
Then you have to remember: fear is not something unnatural. Fear is an ancient emotion. It is innate and extremely useful biologically. Because it ensures the survival of the individual by triggering an instinct to flee in dangerous situations. Therefore, we should not dismiss our dogs’ fears, but take them seriously!
Why are only some dogs afraid of noises?
With the background knowledge of innate anxiety triggers, you could ask yourself the question: Why aren’t all dogs afraid of New Year’s Eve or of loud noises per se?
This is because fear is very individual. It depends on the individual sensitivity of the dog. This is influenced by various factors, such as early life experiences, posture conditions of the mother dog during pregnancy and the dog’s current state of health. These factors determine how strongly a dog responds to certain stimuli.
Dog stress and the influence of diet
Every dog owner will be able to confirm that terrible and noise-sensitive dogs suffer from great stress on New Year’s Eve. However, only a few are aware that diet can have a positive impact on stressful situations.
As a so-called messenger of good fortune, the neurotransmitter serotonin supports the nerve cells in the brain. A deficiency can contribute to the development of aggression, impulsiveness, anti-social behavior, hyperactivity, fear and learning difficulties. In order for serotonin to be formed in the body, the amino acid tryptophan is required, which is absorbed through food. Various studies have shown that dietary tryptophan intake increases serotonin activity in the brain.
In fish, increased tryptophan intake in the feed leads to less aggressive behavior and neuroendocrine stress reactions. Studies in mammals show a similar effect. In pigs and horses, an appropriate diet reduced the stress reactions in the body and changes in behavior were identified. Tryptophan preparations also have a calming effect on humans. And dogs that were fed the appropriate amount of tryptophan behaved less aggressively.
There is currently no clear evidence of a positive influence on fear and stress. The additional intake of tryptophan is recommended by some experts to prevent stressful situations. In a balanced feed ration, which is based on a high-quality protein source, a supply of the amino acid tryptophan can be assumed. Inferior protein sources can lead to incorrect supplies. In general, however, it can make sense for anxious dogs to add additional tryptophan from the veterinarian using special preparations.
Of course, in addition to an adapted diet, other measures can be taken to make the new year a little more pleasant. We have put together some tips for you and your dog below.
12 tips for New Year’s Eve with a dog
Tip 1: go for a walk at quiet times
Shortly before or after midnight, no four-legged friend should leave the house, not even when he is completely fear-free. In many places, however, the popping and crashing begins hours to days before the actual New Year’s Eve. It is therefore advisable to go for a walk with the dog in the early hours of the morning when experience has shown that there is not much hustle and bustle. The evening round should also be a little earlier if it is not yet dark. So choose your times for walking as wisely as possible.
Tip 2: Secure your dog with a harness and leash
In the event of a sudden explosion, fearful dogs could run away in panic. To avoid accidents, dogs should be kept on a leash – a long towline and well-fitting harnesses ensure safety and freedom of movement at the same time. Even with dogs that do not normally react to fireworks, harness and leash should not be left out.
Tip 3: Behavior of the dog owner – be there for the dog
Under no circumstances should an anxious dog be given to someone else on New Year’s Eve or left alone. The dog should definitely be allowed to spend New Year’s Eve with his family or caregiver. Be as normal as possible and tell your dog that there is no need to worry. If the dog is looking for attention, one should not ignore the dog, but give it the opportunity to seek protection. Comforting is also allowed.
Tip 4: shield noise from the outside
Windows and doors should be kept closed to reduce noise on New Year’s Eve. With lowered blinds or drawn curtains, you can protect the dog from flashes and sparkling lights. It is best to position the dog bed a few weeks before New Year’s Eve so that the dog gets used to a place to sleep that is not near the window. When choosing the right place to sleep, the quietest corner in the house or apartment should be chosen in order to generally avoid stress in the dog. If the dog is sleeping in a box, it can be covered with several blankets to dampen the outside noise.
Tip 5: drown out noise
Radio or television at room volume can help drown out the outside noise. Due to the slightly increased noise level, the shock at the moment of the bang is not so great. If, for example, relaxation music has previously been conditioned, this can provide relaxation. The RelaxoDog, a sound module specially developed for animals, can also cause relaxation. If the device is to be used on New Year’s Eve, it should in any case be linked in advance with relaxed situations in the dog.
Tip 6: avoid stress in the previous days
We humans know that: Under stress, it is harder to behave adequately in tense situations. Our dogs are no different. This means that a dog that was already stressed on the days before New Year’s Eve may react even more strongly on New Year’s Eve. So try to avoid stressors for your dog before New Year’s Eve.
Stay alone, many visitors or other dogs can be stress-causing stimuli. What is a stressor for a dog is very different individually. So try to respond to your dog and have a good time with your dog, especially before New Year’s Eve.
Tip 7: reduce stress
Various measures can reduce stress in dogs. For example, massages have a relaxing and stress-relieving effect. The touch causes a release of oxytocin, also called cuddly or feel-good hormone. The prerequisite is that the dog can also accept the massage in this situation. Therefore, a ritual for an evening massage can be introduced before New Year’s Eve.
For some dogs, distraction in the form of nose or retrieval work or the execution of simple commands and tricks helps. Through sensible employment, the dog reduces stress and copes better with the approaching fireworks. Ideally, you try to keep the dog busy before he panics. You can find ideas for dog games for indoors and for dummy tasks in our guide.
Chewing also has a relaxing effect on some dogs. So get some good chewing items before New Year’s Eve that you can give your dog on New Year’s Eve. Ideally, the dog has already received the chew in advance to make sure that the dog can tolerate it. But make sure that they are long-lasting chewing products so that your dog can chew for a long time and do not swallow too large amounts. This also protects the gastrointestinal tract. In return, you can reduce the feed ration accordingly to avoid oversupply.
Tip 8: counterconditioning – creating positive connections
One form of classic conditioning is counterconditioning. A stimulus that actually triggers fear (in our case the bang) should be linked to a positive emotion. In order to achieve this, every bang or other loud noises should be positively linked a few weeks before New Year’s Eve.
That means that after a bang there is something pleasant for the dog – a treat, a game together, a verbal praise or something similar. With this form of behavioral training, you can also ask for advice from an experienced dog trainer for safety reasons.
Tip 9: Take action early
If you want to support your dog with certain aids (a list can be found below in our article), it is advisable to order them a few weeks before New Year’s Eve. Dietary supplements containing the amino acids L-tryptophan or L-theanine should, depending on the preparation, be given a few days to weeks before New Year’s Eve.
Find out early about the dosage and duration of the dose and consider possible delivery times. Aids such as a Thundershirt (a kind of T-shirt for the dog, which is attached to the body with Velcro fasteners) or the RelaxoDog should be tried in advance and linked positively.
Tip 10: Provision for the next year
Since sensitivity to noise is not a problem that can be solved in a day, behavioral therapy measures make sense for very scared dogs. These include relaxation techniques, berth training, counter conditioning and much more. So don’t be afraid to ask a dog trainer or a veterinarian who specializes in behavior therapy.
Tip 11: Escape the fireworks
If the measures do not work, there is the possibility to escape the fireworks in certain cities. There are cities with a ban on fireworks, mainly places with half-timbered houses or thatched roofs or in nature reserves.
Here it is advisable to book the holiday early, as the places for dog owners are generally very popular. Other dog owners drive their car on the highway or a remote rest area to give your dog some rest before the fireworks.
Tip 12: Have the dog’s health checked
If your dog reacts very suddenly or unusually violently to noises, you should definitely introduce him to a veterinarian. Various diseases, tooth and stomach pain, an underactive thyroid or pain in the musculoskeletal system can make dogs react more strongly.
Medications, pheromones & dietary supplements for New Year’s Eve
At this point we want to name a few medicines and dietary supplements that are repeatedly discussed for use on New Year’s Eve. We cannot give a special recommendation at this point, since every dog reacts differently to the preparations and the testimonials are also very variable. It is best to speak to your veterinarian and get advice from your practice.
- CBD (cannabidiol) oils
- Complementary feed with milk proteins such as in Zylkene®
- Bach flower blends or Rescue® drops for dogs
- calming pheromones such as in ADAPTIL® in the form of tablets, collar, spray or as an atomizer
- Complementary feed with the amino acid L-theanine or L-thryptophane such as Relaxan® or Relaxan® forte
- Veterinary medicinal product Sileo®-Gel (active ingredient: dexmedetomidine hydrochloride)
It is important not to give the dog any sedatives with the active ingredient acepromazine. The active substances do not restrict the dogs’ perception of noise, so the dogs are no less afraid than usual, they are only physically incapable of recognizable reactions.
Other tools for New Years Eve
- Mutt Muffs
The Mutt Muffs are hearing protection for dogs. Good quality and an optimal fit should be ensured here. As with the Thundershirt (a kind of t-shirt for the dog that is supposed to relax by applying pressure to the body), wearing must be practiced beforehand. The RelaxoDog, a sound module designed to relax with high-frequency sound waves, is also used in relaxed situations in advance.
- Desensitization with sound CDs
- counter conditioning
- relaxation signal
Summary and conclusion: New Year’s Eve with a dog
Unfortunately, there is no panacea for our dogs’ New Year’s stress. A lot also depends on the management of the dog owner and a positive training. There are numerous medications and nutritional supplements on the market that are designed to alleviate stress. Here you should seek advice from your veterinarian or a specialized behavioral trainer at an early stage.