Despite much campaigning on owners’ part to regulate firework usage more effectively, fireworks are still available for sale for unofficial displays, and remain at a very high decibel level. Until this changes, the best thing to do is to help your dog prepare for firework season.
Bonfire Nights, New Year's Eve, we love those celebrations because we get to see beautiful and colourful fireworks popping in the sky. But these times of year can be very traumatic for many dogs. Indeed, the loud bangs and flashing lights fireworks produce are often very frightening for our furry friends. This can make them stressed and unpredictable, potentially putting their safety at risk. As a pet owner, you will need to plan ahead a desensitisation training program to help your dog to be calm and safe. You will also need to make sure your pet is microchipped in case your dog runs away.
Here are our top tips on how to desensitise your dog and keep your it calm during fireworks.
Plan ahead: How to prepare your dog for fireworks
Do your research
If your dog is noise sensitive, then it’s best to plan ahead for firework season. Find out when firework displays will be taking place near you throughout the year. You should also go ask around your neighbourhood to see if anyone near you is planning unofficial displays as well. Start desensitising your dog to loud sounds months before you expect the first firework displays of the season.
Start a desensitisation training program
Through desensitisation, you can help your dog associate the loud noise of fireworks with something positive. This will take a lot of time and patience on your part. Never rush the process and always stay calm!
You should start by finding a CD or streaming soundtrack of firework noises. At first, play the sound of fireworks CD at a very low volume, so it’s almost imperceptible. Turn this soundtrack on for a few minutes at a time, several times a day. Every time you turn the sound on, make sure you have treats, a bowl of food, or a favourite toy at the ready. Always accompany the noises to something positive that you know your dog enjoys.
If your dog can cope with the noise and shows no signs of fear during these desensitisation sessions, then gradually increase the volume while you continue your positive associations. If you ever feel that your dog is becoming uncomfortable (e.g. ears back, refusing treats), turn off the soundtrack and begin again later at a lower volume. It is very important your dog feels safe and secure.
Whenever you stop feeding/playing with your dog, stop the soundtrack immediately. This will help your dog learn that firework sounds exclusively mean something good is happening!
Check your pet's details
It is also worth checking your pet’s microchip and/or tag details are up to date. Pets who are scared of fireworks often panic at the sound of loud bangs and may display a flight response. In fact, there is a rise in calls to lost pet lines during the end of October/beginning of November in the UK - ‘coincidentally’ during the peak of firework displays. If your pet should run away, it is reassuring to know that you will be able to retrieve them safely.
On the night: How to help and protect your dog during fireworks
Have an early night
If you know fireworks are taking place today, make sure your dog gets an early dinner. Once the displays start, your pet may be too anxious to eat.
Walk your dog early in the evening, before nightfall. In the best case scenario, your dog should’ve spent all his energy before the displays. Take him out on a long walk where he will get the opportunity to run and play. This will help him feel calmer and more relaxed once he gets home.
Create a safe environment
Once in the house, close all the windows and curtains, and turn on your lights. Although the loud noises are mainly to blame for dogs’ negative reactions to fireworks, the constant lighting up of the sky can also be a source of stress.
Make sure your dog has a safe den to retrieve to in case he is feeling anxious and wants to hide. You can create a safe space for your dog by placing a blanket over his crate and filling it with the things he loves: his bed, a favourite toy, or some treats for example. If your pup is not used to using a crate, just make sure his favourite bed, room, or piece of furniture is available for him to take refuge in if he so chooses.
Since anxious dogs are likely to want to make a run for it, ensure that all escape routes (e.g. doors, windows, gates, etc.), are closed. Everyone in your house should be mindful not to leave any of these exits open throughout the evening. However, never lock your dog up somewhere during firework displays. This may cause him further stress and will worsen the situation. Pets always need options of where to go, especially during stressful periods such as these.
This should go without saying, but do not leave your dog alone during a firework display if he is noise sensitive. He will need your support to get through the evening! However, you shouldn’t overdo it either. If you are excessively affectionate or on the contrary, stressed, your dog will pick up on it. This may make him even more uneasy. Act as natural as possible and show your dog that there’s nothing to react to!
You can turn on some classical music, music for dogs, or even the TV to drown out the noises coming from the fireworks. Make sure you do something fun with your dog while the displays are going on. Whether this is cuddling on the couch while feeding him tasty treats, playing a game with his favourite toy, or giving him a Kong toy to keep him occupied, the activity should be distracting and positive for your pooch!
If you have tried every behavioural management plan out there and your dog is still overly anxious during fireworks, you should speak to your vet or a qualified behaviourist. They may recommend using pheromone diffusers, which disperse calming chemicals into the room. They may also advise you to invest in a Thundershirt, which, by applying gentle, constant pressure on your dog’s body, can help reduce fear and anxiety. A vet can also prescribe calming pills for the most stressed-out animals. In any case, they will be able to provide the most experienced, invaluable advice to help you ensure your pet remains healthy and happy throughout firework season.