If you’re a dog owner, you’ll know that dogs and fireworks just don’t mix. Bonfire Night and fireworks season no longer mean fun-filled evenings of sparklers and toffee apples. Instead, with around half of dogs showing signs of fear when they encounter fireworks, you’ll more than likely spend a few nights trying to keep your dog calm and relaxed. So, what can you do to reduce anxiety and make this time of year far less traumatic for your pet?
Dogs and Fireworks
A dog in distress will exhibit many different signals. When it comes to dogs and fireworks, anxiety may manifest itself through excessive barking, restlessness, panting, trembling and cowering, as well as trying to hide away or cling to their owners.
While some dogs are more naturally fearful of noise, it is the element of the unfamiliar that also causes a negative reaction. In the run-up to fireworks season, try a bit of sound therapy to help your dog get used to new and unexpected sounds. Play noise CDs a few times every day –and especially during the evening – to support the desensitisation process. This means that when fireworks do start banging, it will have less of an impact.
On the Night
On the night itself, walk your dog as early as possible before the firework displays really kick off. If your dog is fearful, he may behave unpredictably so it’s best to minimise his exposure to the noise. This will give him the chance to do his business in the peace and quiet, and reduce the risk of fear-related accidents later in the evening.
If there is a risk of fireworks going off during your walk, keep him on the lead because dogs may be tempted to bolt at the sound. Make sure that your dog is microchipped and wearing his ID tag with full, up-to-date information in case he does escape.
Feed your dog earlier in the evening as anxiety may put him off his food. A high-energy walk with lots of stimulation followed by a high-carb meal may induce sleepy feelings and an overall sense of calm.
If you live close to a school, playing field or other location where a large fireworks display is taking place, it may be worth spending the evening at a friend or family member’s home to avoid undue distress.
Provide a Safe Haven
When a dog is scared, he will naturally search for a safe place to retreat. Create a doggy den in a quiet corner, behind the sofa or underneath the bed in an enclosed space. Try to make up this area in a part of the house where your dog likes to relax. Include lots of blankets as well as a piece of your clothing to give him some familiar smells and reassurance. You can also scatter some treats in the area for him to find as well as one or two of his favourite toys.
Don’t try and coax him out of his hiding place – he will come when he’s ready. Make sure to create his den a few days or weeks before the fireworks start so that he gets used to it in time and associates the area with positivity and comfort.
Block Out the Bangs
While dogs will be mainly fearful of the loud noise, the bright lights and flashes of fireworks may also induce fear. Turn the TV or radio up a little higher than normal but not too loud as this may backfire. Keep curtains and windows firmly shut to avoid visual stimulation.
If your dog barks at the sounds, don’t shout at him or get angry. If he shows signs of distress such as pacing around or crying, let him be. Dogs are extremely sensitive to human emotions and you need to engage positively with your pet to encourage a calm atmosphere. Punishing him will only exacerbate the issue.
When he is quiet and relaxed – even if only for a few moments – give him lots of praise, reward him with a cuddle and give him a small treat. A happy, relaxed environment will emphasise to your dog that there is nothing to be afraid of. You should also make sure to respond to your dog if he comes to you for reassurance – don’t ignore him and don’t shut him in the other room or leave him alone in the house as he will only feel more scared.
While a certain level of fear is natural when it comes to fireworks and other loud, sudden noises, in some cases a dog may be overly anxious or extremely noise-phobic. This indicates a more deep-rooted problem and entrenched fears. In these situations, it’s best to speak to an expert trainer and qualified dog behaviourist like our team at Dog Harmony to find out how you can treat this issue and make your pet happier and more comfortable.
I have worked with many dog owners and their pets to deal with anxiety – the issue of dogs and fireworks often comes up and I can advise on ways to deal with it. You should also speak to your vet if your dog has any pre-existing health issues to make sure that excess anxiety during fireworks season will not unduly affect him.