A study by the RSPCA suggests that over 60% of dogs show marked signs of distress during the sound of fireworks. That’s a lot of scared doggos out there!
It is likely you are reading this because you want to minimise the distress your dog experiences during fireworks or because you have a new puppy and you would like to prevent them from becoming scared in the first place. The good news is both scenarios are possible.
In this post we will look at how we can help our dogs adjust, become familiar with and potentially even relax during fireworks.
Why Are Dogs Scared of Fireworks?
Imagine hearing fireworks without any kind of explanation. We cannot rationalise the sound to dogs. The loud, unpredictable bangs and claps are totally unfamiliar and can be very startling. Dogs can also hear higher frequency sounds more clearly than us as well as detecting sounds further afield. This means that you might not be bothered by the fireworks on a neighbouring estate, but your dog can quite clearly hear them.
How Can I Help My Dog Feel More Relaxed With Fireworks?
There are several ways you can help your dog feel more relaxed during fireworks season. We all want the best for our dogs and helping them manage stress is one of our biggest responsibilities. Below are my top 6 tips that you can start today:
Desensitisation means getting your dog so used to something, that it no longer impacts them in any way. So once your dog is truly desensitised to fireworks, they will behave in exactly the same way as if there weren’t any fireworks happening. It is that normal to them. And surely we all want this for our dogs!
To do this we will be giving our dogs something really fun and positive to do whilst they get used to the sounds of fireworks at a level they can handle. This step takes a little bit of daily time commitment but is hugely worth it.
You will need:
- A device to play a recording of fireworks through. (You can get recordings from anywhere as long as they sound realistic such as YouTube)
- Your dog’s favourite toys
- Your dog’s favourite chew
- Food enrichment activities e.g. kong, snuffle mat, licky mat
- Begin by playing the recording of fireworks at the lowest volume possible.
- At the same time present something that your dog loves – this can be a chew, a toy or stuffed kong.
- Allow your dog to eat or play whilst the fireworks are in the background for a few minutes then stop.
- Repeat this several times a day every day.
- Slowly begin to increase the volume by one notch at a time.
- If at any point your dog seems stressed or more focused on the sounds than the food or toy, stop the exercise and keep the volume slightly lower for a few days before gradually increasing again.
The end goal is to have the fireworks playing on a volume that’s loud enough to replicate them in real life, without your dog reacting at all to them. Patience and time is key here especially for dogs that have a history of being very worried by fireworks.
Contrary to popular belief, comforting your dog when they are scared won’t increase their fear. We are often told that if we reassure our dogs when they are already anxious, their behaviour becomes worse because their fear is being reinforced. But the truth is we can’t reinforce fear, especially something that our dog is already fearful of!
Instead go and comfort your dog. Give them cuddles (if they like them), talk to them in a soothing voice, let them come as close as they want. This won’t mean they are suddenly cured of their fireworks phobias but it will definitely decrease their stress a little.
Adaptil makes a synthetic version of a mother’s comforting pheromones she would naturally release to soothe her puppies. These come in the form of wipes, a collar (that stays on for 30 days) and a plug in diffuser. Adaptil claim that their product has been scientifically proven to reduce stress behaviours in dogs such as panting and trembling. There are also many dog parents that swear by it.
Some people notice more of a difference than others and usually adaptil products work best when combined with exercise, the right nutrition and enrichment for the dog. The good news is we can’t smell this pheromone so it won’t bring any odours into the house!
I would recommend using adaptil a few days before fireworks begin so your dog becomes familiar with it, whilst also allowing it to take effect before the noise starts.
A thundershirt is worn by a dog like a jumper, but is specially designed to be a snug fit. The continuous pressure applied to your dog’s torso has been shown to help release calming hormones such as oxytocin.
Not all dogs will appreciate a thundershirt though, especially those with handling issues so only try it if you know your dog will be fine wearing it. Make sure you have a few practice runs with your dog before fireworks night to ensure it fits well and is comfortable for them. You can buy them from most pet shops and amazon.
5. Providing a Safe Space
Your dog will probably already have a favoured place they go to relax. Some dogs enjoy small spaces and curling up under furniture or in a crate. Wherever your dog is likely to settle most make it extra cosy for them with lots of soft bedding and an area they can retreat to if they want when fireworks start.
Hopefully if you have been consistently doing desensitisation training this won’t be necessary, however a safe space can really help those dogs that are still showing fear around the sound of fireworks.
You could also consider playing classical music which has been proven to reduce stress in dogs, whilst also drowning out some of the noise from the fireworks.
6. Plan ahead
A few simple management tips that can really help during fireworks season include:
- Walking your dog in daylight hours so you know you won’t be caught out.
- Where possible staying in with your dog and not making any plans (easier during covid!)
- Remembering that although bonfire night is the 5th November, people will start releasing fireworks before and after this date so be prepared for a few weeks of being there for your dog in the evening.
More than ever this year we need to ensure our dogs have the support they need to get through fireworks season. It is likely there will be more fireworks than usual in neighbouring gardens due to covid and the cancellation of large gatherings at bonfire displays.
The best thing you can do for your dog is prepare and get them used to the sound of fireworks ahead of time. And don’t forget to continue the odd bit of practice throughout the year especially as fireworks tend to crop up around New Year and sometimes randomly!
If you feel like your dog is really struggling with fireworks or any other sound sensitivities please contact me and I will be happy to help.