Tips to help your dog during fireworks
After Halloween has been and gone, we might think the scariest part of the season is over. But for our dogs, one of the most terrifying times of year is just around the corner. We all know that dogs have an incredible sense of smell, but did you know they also have incredible hearing? Dogs can hear sounds that are four times further away than we can, and they can also detect significantly higher frequencies. Evolution has hard-wired dogs to respond to loud noises with survival instincts, meaning an especially loud noise can trigger a fight-or-flight response. Many loud noises which we can tolerate, like fireworks, are intolerable to dogs.
As a result, Bonfire night and New Year’s Eve can often be very distressing because the loud noises and flashing lights of fireworks can often be confusing and can trigger stress and fear.
Did you know? According to The Kennel Club, 80 per cent of owners notice a change in their dog’s behaviour in this period, and nearly half (48 per cent) say that their dogs are scared by them. New research also shows a 100 per cent increase in dogs going missing during firework season, which often happens when a dog bolts due to feeling overwhelmed by the combination of loud bangs, flashing lights, and the strong smell of spent explosives.
It is difficult for dogs to pinpoint exactly where the sounds are coming from, and not knowing where the explosion took place and when the next one will go off can be terrifying. Some dogs react more strongly than others because each individual dog’s reaction can be determined by past experiences. For example, if your dog was scared by fireworks once then they are more likely to remember and fear fireworks again. Some more fearful or nervous dogs, for example rescue dogs, may also be particularly scared of fireworks due to past traumas. Finally, the way your dog reacts to loud sounds can also be partly controlled by their genetics; noise aversion can be influenced, to some degree, by your dog’s breed, age, and sex.
So, what can we do to help them?
The best long-term solution to dog anxiety around fireworks is to gradually desensitize them to loud noises over time. There are also some short-term techniques which might be useful to help calm your pup during firework displays.
1 - Acclimatise your dog to the sound of fireworks over time.
There are many noise CDs on the market as well as plenty of downloadable content, or you could try playing the Kennel Club’s Spotify playlist to introduce your dog to these sounds in a controlled way (called Firework pet training, The Kennel Club UK on spotify). However, if your dog is extremely sensitive to noise then this might not be the best way to go about helping your dog, and in this case it would be better to consult an animal behaviorist.
2 - Create a ‘safe place’ inside your home for your dog to hide from fireworks.
For example, a table draped with a blanket could make a great hiding spot. If your dog is used to being in a crate and they feel safe in there, you could try covering it with blankets and leaving it open with blankets and toys inside. Don’t lock your dog in their crate, however, as this could cause them even more distress. Try to give your dog as many options as possible, letting them choose where to hide.
3 - Top up your dog’s water bowl and try to feed them earlier in the day.
Anxious dogs pant more and become thirstier. Disturbances may also cause your dog to become too anxious to eat, meaning it might help your dog to feed them beforehand.
4) Try to avoid taking your dog out at times fireworks are most likely to go off.
Instead, take them out earlier in the day on a walk to help tire them out and then take them out for their final eveningtoileting earlier in the day. Doing this gradually over a few days might help prevent your dog from feeling like their routine has suddenly been uprooted, which could cause them more stress.
5 - Experiment with gentle enrichment activities and ensure someone stays in with your dog during the evening to help calm them down if possible.
Offering your dog their favourite toy might help to distract them, and you could also try stuffing a puzzle toy such as a KONG with layers of food like peanut butter (check it’s the dog friendly kind without the ingredient xylitol) to keep your dog occupied. Having someone to snuggle up with if they choose could also help calm them down.
6 - Let your dog hide away if they want to or play as they please.
Each individual dog will have a preference as to where they feel safest. For example, they may be most comfortable curled up in their usual spot with you rather than a designated ‘safe place’. Allowing them access to all safe areas of the house will also prevent them from hurting themselves trying to get out of a room, particularly if they are very stressed.
7 - Make sure your house and garden are completely secure to prevent your dog from bolting out of fear and getting lost.
If possible, make sure your dog doesn’t have access to doors that lead outside, especially when people are coming in or out of the house. It’s best to secure any escape routes in your garden just in case, and make sure everyone who comes in and out of your house knows they need to be quick when opening and closing external doors.
8 - You could try masking the noise of the fireworks with a TV or radio.
It’s well known that classical music will help to calm dogs in general and could also be useful on bonfire night. Music with quite a h4 bass will be ideal for masking bangs when played at a volume that is right for your dog.
9 - Try drawing your curtains and closing all windows to reduce disruption from fireworks.
The flashing lights across the sky can also disrupt your dog alongside the loud bangs. Leaving lights on indoors will also help reduce the impact of flashes.
10 - Make sure that your dogs are microchipped and that their microchip details are up to date.
If the worst-case scenario happens and your dog bolts, having a microchip will help you find them much more easily. It’s also important to note that microchipping has been a legal requirement since April 2016.
11 - Try to behave normally around your dog rather than being overly playful or energetic with them.
Even if you are trying to distract your dog, being overly playful or unusual in your behaviour might make your them feel more anxious and confused.
12) Finally, you may need to consult your vet if your dog is extremely anxious even after you have tried all these techniques.
It is important to note that any medicinal treatment should always be administered by a veterinarian and accompanied by a behaviour management plan.
We hope these tips are useful and enable you and your pup to safely enjoy the run-up to the festive period.