Dogs & Fireworks

photo of dog hiding from fireworks

How Can I Help My Dog?

Bonfire night is fast approaching and that means fireworks and in turn scared pets.

Why Fireworks Scare Dogs?

Dogs are naturally frightened of loud noises.  The unexpected sounds can make them anxious or afraid, and their survival instinct kicks in.  Some dogs will run away.  Some will hide in a corner.  Others may become so distressed that they end up harming themselves and others.

What to Do

The most important thing we can do is keep them safe. I recently read of a dog that died as a result of a firework. He was out in a secure garden when an unexpected firework went off, scaring him so much that he scaled a high fence in fear and was sadly hit by a car.

Safety First:

  • Try to walk your dogs earlier in the evening before it gets dark.
  • Think about using a harness rather than a collar.  It’s more difficult for scared dogs to escape from a harness.
  • If your dog needs to go out after dark take them into the garden on a lead and stay with them.
  • Please don’t take your dog to a fireworks display.  Even the most ‘bomb proof’ dog may spook in an unfamiliar environment if a firework goes off nearby.

Comfort at Home:

There are various things you can do to try and sooth scared dogs if they are nervous and fearful.

  • Adaptil is a plug in or collar which releases pheromones which can help some dogs relax.  They need to be used for a period of time before the stressful event so its worth starting now.
  • Thunder shirts. These snug fitting shirts work on the principle of Ttouch and can also help calm dogs.  They can be quite expensive so you can try wraps first to see if they may help your dog.
  • Medication. If your dog is particularly fearful it may be worth speaking to your vet about medications that you can use to try and help your dog stay calm.
  • Build a den!  If your dog is crate trained these can be really useful as a hiding place.   Cover it with a few extra blankets to muffle sounds and give them a tasty Kong. Don’t lock them in their crate though; they should be able to escape if they feel the need. If your dog isn’t crate trained please don’t make firework night the first time they go in there.  Get in touch with me, I can help you!
  • Close the curtains and annoy the neighbours by turning the TV up really loud.  My neighbours understand which is lucky.
  • Act normally.  Dogs are very astute at picking up if we are stressed. Try to stay calm (have a glass of wine if it helps) and act as if it is just a normal night.
  • If your dog is scared – comfort them (if they ask you to)!  You can’t make it any worse.

Desensitisation:

We can help our dogs cope better through desensitisation.  In a nutshell we make the sound of fireworks so common place that they become a non event.   There are a few apps and downloads you can get that have the sound of fireworks.  Check out this sound therapy page from The Dogs Trust.

The aim of desensitisation is that we don’t see anything from our dogs.   No reactions.  No barking.  No fear.  If  our pets are still reacting, we have gone too quickly.  Simple.

  • Start with the volume incredibly low.  Remember their hearing is better than ours so if it seems low to you it may not be to them.
  • While you have the noise playing feed them a really tasty treat, something like a stuffed Kong is perfect as it takes a while to eat.
  • As soon as they finish their treat turn the sound off.
  • Repeat as often as you can gradually increasing the volume over a period of time.
  • Remember if your dog isn’t eating his treat it can be a sign of stress.  We have raised the volume too quickly.

We want our dogs to associate the loud noises with something good.  Fireworks = treats in their minds.

It can be quite a long process but the beauty is that it’s very straightforward.  While it may be a little late for this 5th of Nov there will always be another round of fireworks – New Year, local weddings, kids!

More Information

The best way to help your dog survive fireworks is to be prepared.  Read as much information as you can and get started well in advance.  Check out these tips from the Dog Trust.

How does you dog react to fireworks?  Share it in the comments below.