With an estimated 45% of dogs demonstrating fearful behaviour in response to firework noise, your dog may well already be experiencing anxiety in relation to fireworks, or be at high risk of acquiring a fear of flashes and bangs.
To give your dog the best chance of coping well with fireworks, there are a number of steps you can take in the run up to firework season, as well as various strategies you can implement on the days that fireworks are going to be set off.
Here’s our list of top tips for managing firework fretfulness….
1. Acclimatise your puppy / dog to firework noise in advance
Sound therapy can be used to help both puppies and adult dogs to get used to firework noise in a gradual and controlled manner, starting with low volume sounds and pairing the noises with positive experiences.
It is possible to purchase sound desensitisation CDs and to download free sound content - the Dogs Trust have a great Sound Therapy section on their website which offers this content along with an explanation of how to use it appropriately to acclimatise your dog in the correct way.
If your dog is already fearful of firework noise, it is advisable to speak to an experienced animal behaviourist before undertaking any ‘sound therapy’ work, since incorrectly implemented, it could make your dog’s fear worse.
2. Calming products
Supplements / medications
There are various ‘over-the-counter’ natural supplements which may help to keep your dog feeling calm in situations where they might otherwise become anxious, for example:
Zylkene capsules and chews - contains a natural ingredient derived from casein, a milk protein, which is a molecule well-known for promoting the relaxation of new-borns after breast-feeding
Scullcap & Valerian tablets and liquid – these herbs are ‘nervines’ which means they help to relax the nervous system and therefore reduce anxiety
You may wish to speak with your vet before starting your dog on any kind of supplementation, and it is recommended that you do so if your dog has any known health issues / is taking any kind of medication or other supplementation.
Dogs with more severe noise aversions such as noise phobia may benefit from calming medication prescribed by a vet.
Supplements and medications are usually most effective if your dog starts taking them a few days or weeks before, as well as during, fireworks season.
Pheromones are natural chemical substances produced and released into the environment by an animal, which affect the behaviour or physiology of other animals of the same species.
Adaptil – is a synthetic pheromone product which replicates the ‘comforting messages’ that mother dogs release to communicate to their puppies that they are safe. These odourless messages are called Dog Appeasing Pheromones and are only perceived by dogs. People and other pets cannot detect, and are not affected by, them. Adaptil is available as a plug-in diffuser, spray and collar.
Placing a constant, gentle pressure on the body has been a common practice for years for helping to relieve anxiety, for example, swaddling infant children.
ThunderShirt - patented jacket design applies a gentle, constant pressure across the dog's torso, and claims an over 80% success rate in successfully calming anxious dogs
3. Fireworks displays
Find out when and where all of the local organised public displays are being held in your area, and ask your neighbours if they are planning any private fireworks on their properties. This will help you to plan when it is best to take your dog out and when you need to be protecting them indoors.
Don’t have a fireworks party in your garden. To keep your dog’s anxiety levels as low as possible, you want to be minimising your dog’s exposure to the sounds and sights of fireworks, and making them feel as safe and secure as possible inside their home.
Never take a dog to a fireworks display, even if they don’t appear to be obviously concerned about the sights and sounds of fireworks. Dogs have much better hearing than humans, therefore the sound levels will be incredibly high and uncomfortable for them, in addition to having to cope with the flashing lights, crowds of people, and possibly also the sight, sound and heat of a large fire burning.
4. Adapt your routine
Walk your dog in daylight hours and keep them on-lead if you think there is a chance that fireworks might be set-off whilst you are outside
Feed your dog before it gets dark. If they are anxious about firework noise they may be too worried to eat later in the evening and will miss out on their meal
Ensure that your dog has had a chance to go outside and toilet before darkness falls
Stay at home with your dog in the evening so that they have the comfort of your company - your absence could make them feel more uneasy
If your dog is relaxed enough to engage with you in an activity, train / play games with them indoors during the evening so that they are occupied with a pleasant activity whilst the fireworks are taking place, rather than focusing on the commotion outdoors
5. Create a safe and comforting home zone
Make your dog a den or two, one in the room where you will be during the fireworks, and if a different location, one where your dog normally takes themselves off to rest and relax. You can make a den using your dog’s crate, a table or any other safe, stable object that is large enough for your dog to get inside / under, but small and cosy enough that your dog feels that they are in a snug, secure space. Drape a thick blanket or similar over the den leaving one side open for your dog to come in and out as they please, and make sure there is lots of comfortable bedding inside
Ensure that your dog has access to plenty of water and some safe objects to chew on (e.g. a Kong toy, nylabone or long-lasting food chew), both inside their dens and elsewhere in the house
Draw all curtains and close all blinds so that the flashing firework lights are not visible from indoors. Keep the lights on inside the house as well since this will also help to disguise lights coming from outside
Have the TV, radio or some music playing to help muffle the sounds of fireworks outside
Close all windows and external doors, both to help minimise firework noise inside and prevent your dog from escaping the home if they become frightened and run
Allow your dog to have free access to all the firework-proofed rooms in your house where they are normally allowed to go, so that they can choose to go where they feel safest / most relaxed
Behave normally - if you demonstrate no concern about the fireworks yourself, this can help your dog to worry less
Comfort your dog if they need support - if they are worried and seeking comfort from you e.g. climbing onto the sofa and cuddling up to you, then provide them with the comfort they are looking for - quietly stroke them and hold them close to you to help them feel safe, but avoid repeating verbal reassurance such as saying ‘it’s ok, don’t worry’ since your dog may interpret this as anxiety on your part which may make them feel more worried. If your dog chooses to hide somewhere on their own though, let them do so and do not try to coax them out to be with you
Dogs who are frightened may demonstrate behaviours that humans disapprove of such as toileting indoors and destroying household objects. It is essential not to tell your dog off for such behaviours since you will increase their stress levels still further and make matters worse
If your dog is normally kennelled outdoors, bring them inside on nights when fireworks are expected if you can, so that you can keep an eye on them and muffle out the sights and sounds of the fireworks as much as possible. If it is not possible to bring them into the house, implement as many of the other steps above as possible in their outside living quarters
6. In the garden
If your dog needs to go outside during the hours of darkness, go outside with them, and keep them on a lead if this does not deter them from toileting, so that you can quickly bring them back inside after they’ve done their business
Make sure that your garden boundaries are fully secure so that should a firework go off somewhere when your dog is outside taking a toilet break, they are not able to escape your garden should they run in fright
Ensure that your dog is wearing their collar with an up to date identification tag attached to it, and that you have checked all of their microchip details are up to date, so that should your dog get spooked and escape, it will be easier for them to be reunited with you
We hope you find our Fireworks tips helpful, however if your dog is still showing signs of anxiety, and especially if they are demonstrating extremely fearful behaviours such as trying to escape from the house, toileting indoors and self-harming, please seek help from your vet and an experienced behaviourist as soon as possible so that they can help you to help you dog feel less frightened when fireworks are set off again in the future.
To receive more tips, advice, news and stories about all things dog, subscribe to The Complete Canine Blog! It’s FREE and you only need to let us know your first name and email address, then once a month you’ll receive your personalised copy of The Complete Canine Blog with all of our newest blog posts straight to your email inbox!
“Be Your Dog’s Best Friend” with Complete Canine Dog Training.