Getting your dog through Dutch New Years’ Eve

New Year’s Eve in the Netherlands

If you live in the Netherlands and have a pet, you’ll know about the nightmare that is Dutch New Year’s Eve. And it’s not just one night, but it drags on for days before and after the big night.

In the Netherlands, fireworks are only allowed one week a year, so they really go all out. Add copious amounts of alcohol, and you’ve got yourself a bunch of uncoordinated happy drunks handling dangerous explosives in crowded city centres. Why this would seem like a good idea to anyone is beyond me, but there you have it.

Even if the dog is safely cooped up indoors, he will likely be a nervous wreck on the night. As experiencing profound fear can have long-term sequels for the dog, read below for some survival tip on Dutch Armageddon.

Before the big night

  • If your dog is a nervous nelly about it, get him gently used to the fireworks sound way ahead of time (you can start around September as far as I’m concerned).
    • Get free firework soundtracks from the internet (just google ‘fireworks sounds’ and download mp3’s,) and play them at gradually higher volumes, always staying within the dog’s comfort zone. Each time there is a bang, give the dog a treat or distract him with a tug of war game. Walk that tight rope between: 1/ Avoiding having the dog too distracted by the game/treat. We want him to notice the bangs.  2/ Avoiding creating an aversion to the sound of fireworks by increasing the volume too fast or not distracting the dog enough.
    • 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

To get through the night

So if you have no choice but to have your pet spend New Year’s Eve in the Netherlands, here are a few survival tips.

  • Do not leave your pet home alone on 31 Dec 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, and do not fuss.
  • Distract the dog with a game during peaks in fireworks activity (I ALWAYS spend the midnight countdown with a Kong in my hand…)
  • Do not punish the dog if it shows unwanted behaviour related to its anxiety.

Prepare your home

  • Tape shut your letter box flap (teenagers + alcohol + fireworks = many bad ideas)
  • Close the curtains or blinds.
  • Leave soothing music on (the TV would show fireworks that night!)

New Year’s eve and lost pets

The last week of December is one of the busiest periods for pet ambulances and dog shelters in the Netherlands.

In the very likely event that your pet should run away, this is what could happen:

  • Rover causes a traffic accident and causes material damage, or worse.
  • Rover gets injured, or worse.
  • Rover bites someone in his panic.
  • Rover gets permanently lost (panicked dogs  can run very far).
  • Rover 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 the dog on the leash during the last week of December and the first week of January.
  • Ensure the dog is tagged and chipped.
  • Lock all potential escape routes on the night (e.g. garden gate, dog flap, front door, etc.)

About medication

Medication should really be a last resort for fireworks anxiety.

I strongly advise a gentle and gradual desensitisation approach instead, or a combination of medication and desensitisation.

Medication is not ideal, as it can drastically reduces the animal’s motor skills, but it does not completely eliminate anxiety. Imagine having to face your phobia with your legs temporarily paralysed.

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.

If your pet does require medication, you will need to contact you veterinarian weeks in advance, not on Dec 30.

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.

This video (and step-by-step protocol) by one of my teachers, Dr. Jolanda Pluijmakers, can also be useful to you (in Dutch, though.)

This infographic is about 4 July, but, you know what they say: different holiday, same principle:
Keeping Your Pets Safe On The 4th of July From PetAmberAlert.com

Further reading

Any comments?

  • Have you lived with your pet in the Netherlands long? How do you deal with the fireworks season?
  • Does your pet suffer from severe noise/fireworks phobia? How does it affect yours and your pet’s quality of life?
  • Have you ever medicated your pet for fireworks anxiety? What did you use? What were the results?
  • Have you ever desensitised your pet to fireworks (with a CD, for example) in advance?
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