If you have a dog who is fearful of fireworks, you will probably be dreading the arrival of the darker nights which inevitably herald the impending 5th of November and the barrage of flashes and bangs that accompany it. It is terribly distressing to see your beloved friend shaking in fear and desperately trying to escape in the hope that they can get away from the scary noises.
It would be lovely to help all dogs to be fine with fireworks, but for many dogs, the best we can hope for will be to help them cope better than they would have without our intervention, so if you have done nothing previously, start NOW! Even if you have a dog that is fine with the loud bangs now, do not take this for granted – it may not be this way in the future.
Over time and repeated exposures, dogs that appeared fine at year one are terrified by year three, so instead of thinking my dog’s fine, I do not need to do anything, use the information below to help protect them for the future.
If you do have a dog that is currently not that bothered by the sound of fireworks, you can use a recording of firework noises. Just leave it playing at a very, very low level for long periods of time; gradually increase the volume only when the dog pays no attention to it. We want the dog to hear the sound so much that it just takes no notice. If however, you have a dog that is already anxious about loud noises or appears to be worried by the sounds, seek professional help.
It is also worth getting a vet check if the fearful behaviour suddenly starts, as it may be linked to a medical condition.
The first thing I would recommend, if you do have a dog with an extreme fear of fireworks, is to speak with your vet as they can advise you of appropriate medications which would help support any long term behaviour modification plan or if you have left it too late, counter some of the effects of the fireworks.
So, if you know you have a dog that is scared of fireworks, it is best to start early and prepare a carefully structured desensitisation and counter conditioning programme – if you think this is something you may need help with, look for a professional to help build the plan for you.
This can then be supported with all the other interventions listed below.
It used to be believed that comforting your dog would make things worse in the long run, but I want to make it clear that comforting your dog will do no harm and may well help. In fact, always making sure somebody is at home to support and protect them from harm, is something I would recommend.
Provide your dog with somewhere safe to hide by creating a ‘doggy den’. Ideally this needs to be created some time in advance, so start now! Identify somewhere where your dog likes to be and feels safe. This could be a place they already retreat to in times of stress, or their crate. In an ideal world, this would be as far away from windows or openings as can be practically managed.
Next, furnish it with comfortable bedding and cover with multiple layers or something like a duvet. This will help make them feel safe and deaden the noise a little.
It would then help to build strong positive associations with this place allowing the dog to come and go at will.
Use super nice treats and leave them in the den for the dog to find and play fun games around the area of the den.
This needs to be done over several weeks prior to the event but better to start late than never at all.
If after all this prep you still find at the first sign of trouble your dog runs to a completely different place and tries to hide away elsewhere, leave them be and see if you can make that place feel safer instead.
Please do not pull your dog from its place of safety unless it is in imminent danger. Please, please DO NOT PUNISH YOUR DOG for being frightened, as this can only make things worse.
Walk your dog before it gets dark if you can, if not, walk in the early morning and miss the evening for a time. Consider hiring a dog walker for a few weeks to exercise your dog during the daylight hours, if you cannot do so yourself.
Check that your dog is wearing suitable identification and that your microchip information is correct and up-to-date. If you want to give them a little more freedom, have them on a longline so that they can still safely explore and run a little.
When you expect fireworks, check that all possible openings are secure and that your dog cannot escape from your property.
Make sure the room is well lit to try and counter the effect of flashes, (especially if you cannot be away from a window) and try to cover any windows to prevent flashes and soften the noise.
Put on the radio or TV at a volume that will help mask out the noise, practise this before the night so that moving the dog to a safe den/room, bright lights and loud radio, do not become associated with a chain of events leading to the bangs.
Provide new and novel toys as distractions, food stuffed chew toys can help distract a dog that is not too stressed. It is highly unlikely though that your dog will take food if it is frightened, but worth doing to help those not suffering so extremely.
Massage and touch can help to relax your dog if its feeling stressed, so why not learn some basic canine massage techniques. However, do not restrain your dog and force them to endure handling if they are trying to get away from you, let them move away – a frightened dog is more likely to bite if it’s being forced into situations it cannot cope with.
There are other non-prescription products that can help support your management plan. The ones I would consider using are body wraps that gently ‘hug’ your dog with a constant pressure that can have a dramatic calming effect on a lot of dogs, specially developed music CDs that are designed to calm your dog and I also personally like to use herbal scent-diffusers with my own dogs.
You will also find a range of calming preparations, liquids and tablets available which use a variety of ingredients which may help to calm a dog in stressful situations.
These are generally available from good pet shops, veterinary practices and on-line. Whatever you choose to use, make sure you follow the recommendations provided by the vet or the manufacturer’s instructions, as some products may require a period of time before they start to work and others will need to be used before the fireworks start to have the most effect.
So with a bit of forward planning, you can help your dog get through this time of year with minimal upset and stress.