Fireworks seem to be a part of most celebrations, from July 4th to New Year’s Eve and everything in-between. And, while we humans can be delighted and enthralled by those whizzes and bangs, your canine much less so. In fact, those firework displays can be traumatic for our pooches, as many dog owners know only too well. So, if your pup is a scaredy cat when it comes to rockets, crackers or bangers, then read on. We take a look at how you can prepare and comfort your stressed-out pet when fireworks are lighting up your neighborhood.
Why are Dogs Scared Of Fireworks?
While not every dog is going to spook at the bang of a firework, the sensory overload created is likely to get a reaction from your pet. With their acute sense of hearing, all those loud booms and crackles are alarming to a canine and will elicit some form of response. Not only are fireworks loud, they are also unpredictable and will be perceived by your bewildered dog as a threat and can trigger a ‘fight or flight’ stress response. And if your hound has nowhere to run, he is also going to feel trapped. Add all this together and you could well have one scared pooch, displaying all the signs of distress, including shaking, panting, pacing, drooling, whining and barking. At the extreme, he could also soil himself or become destructive. Or he may simply be overwhelmed and disappear to hide. These are all natural canine fear responses and are distressing for everyone involved.
Prepare Your Pet
For a dog scared of fireworks, then preparation is essential to help tone down the spook effect on your pet. And, this doesn’t just mean dealing with a firework-stressed dog on the night, but in the run up to any firework event or season. If you know there is going to be a firework display near to you, or are getting close to the 4th July or New Year, then here’s the prep you need to do:
- Your dog really is a flight risk once those fireworks start flying so do all you can to prevent an escape. Make sure your dog has some form of identification on him, as well as ensuring he is microchipped and all your contact details on the system are up to date.
- Desensitizing measures may also help your pup get a little more used to loud and unexpected noises. As long as your dog is not severely noise-phobic, try him out with a recording of fireworks set at a normal volume, and then slowly increase the sound over several weeks. Have some treats to hand and reward him or turn it into a play session to make a more positive association.
- On the morning of the known firework day, take your dog for a long, fun walk and pay him loads of attention while you work off as much of his energy as you can. Back at home, make sure he has been out for the toilet before it gets dusk and feed him well as once the fireworks start, he may be too anxious to eat. But make sure he has access to plenty of water throughout the night.
Five Ways To Comfort Your Pooch During Fireworks
So, the celebration night has arrived, and those fireworks are being set off like there’s no tomorrow. Here’s five top ways to help calm and comfort your anxious pet:
- Keep them inside
You will not only minimize the escape risk but by keeping your pooch inside you will reduce his exposure to the sounds from outside and put a familiar barrier between your dog and the perceived danger. If your pet is surrounded by well-known sights and smells, he will feel that little bit safer, especially if his favorite humans are also around. Close all the curtains and blinds and check that there are no gaps or chinks where a firework’s flash-bang light can slip through. And don’t forget to lock or block off any cat or dog flaps you have in the home to stop him going out into the backyard without you.
If you are concerned about keeping him inside for so long, or your home is really close to all the firework action, why not consider taking your pet away for a few days, perhaps to stay with an understanding friend or relative who lives out of town.
- Create a safe space
One of your pooch’s instincts, when confronted with loud and scary fireworks, can be to run off and hide so making a safe den he can easily retreat to is going to help with his soaring anxiety levels. If they are crate-trained, then put their crate in a location he can quickly access and is away from any doors or windows. If a crate is not appropriate, then their bed or a duvet will also work. Add to their ‘safe space’ some of their favorite blankets and toys as well as one of your jumpers or Ts which will have your smell on it to reassure. Lower or turn out the light in the room but leave the door open and check on them regularly. A water bowl nearby is also a good idea.
It is important not to confine your dog to one room or a room they cannot escape from as it could well add to their stress and sense of being trapped, causing their fear to escalate. You should also make sure they have safe access to other safe places in your home they tend to go – under your bed, the utility room, behind the sofa, for example – and close the doors to any rooms you don’t want them to go into.
- Provide some physical comfort
If your dog is the cuddling kind, even under stress, then make sure you are on hand to give them physical reassurance but remain calm and collected. You need to be able to soothe your stressed-out pooch, so keep your voice low and steady and avoid any sharp or sudden movements. From a gentle stroke or tickle behind the ear, to a full-on, on the knee cuddle, let your dog dictate what he wants from you, and then give it, no questions asked. Also have a few treats to hand, to reward their brave behavior.
You can also use a comfort wrap to provide a constant light physical pressure to reassure and calm your pet. There are several on the market and they resemble a snug-fitting vest designed to hug your dog’s torso. Use for 20 minutes at a time and see how your pup goes. He should respond positively to the comforting pressure and find it soothing. For a wider selection of choices, check out our dog anxiety vest guide.
- Create a distraction
There are two ways to distract your pet from the perceived firework threat outside – either pretend it isn’t happening or create a diversion inside the home.
- Act normal – your pet will most likely see you as their pack leader and will take confidence from you, so think about how you act around them. If you act as if everything is normal, this could break the spell the noise of the fireworks outside has on your dog. Be cheerful and calm, go about your business and encourage your pooch to do the same, rewarding with treats for their good behavior. And, if they run spooked into their crate or another room, don’t chase them or shout out instructions, leave them be. Then after a few minutes, check on them to reassure. Your aim is to not make a big deal or show concern about what’s going on outside, giving your dog the reassurance to do the same.
- Divert their attention – take your pooch’s attention away from their firework fear with something to divert them. One way could be to play background sound, ambient music or simply put on the TV. While it won’t drown out the sound outside it will reduce the impact of the firework noise and replace something unfamiliar with something they know. Just make sure you play your music or TV sound at the volume you usually use. Alternatively, try to engage your dog in a fun play session, or give them a puzzle treat or chew to occupy their attention on something positive.
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- Speak to your vet
If you have tried all our suggestions and your pup is still on a firework meltdown or you have a naturally nervous dog and you expect their anxiety levels to be off the scale, then speak to your vet about the medication options that may be available to you. These include:
Pheromones – which can reduce anxiety levels and come as either a spray, wipe or diffuser collar.
Melatonin – this is an over-the-counter natural supplement which can calm and soothe your stressed dog.
Sedation – not to be considered lightly, your veterinary professional could prescribe a light sedative if your dog is really distressed. Your dog’s health and age will also need to be taken into account.
Alternatively, as a potential long-term solution, your vet may suggest an animal behavior specialist who will explore methods to train your dog, so they are less sensitive to loud noises.
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What Not To Do
And finally, there are some things you should most definitely not do when it comes to fireworks and your pet. Even if your pooch seems cool with fireworks, never take them to a firework display as you simply don’t know how they will react. Always keep your dog on a lead if you are out walking during a known firework season and don’t leave them outside if fireworks are being set off. If you know your pooch is a firework-phobe, avoid leaving him home alone, as for dogs, there is always reassurance in numbers. And if his fear-filled behavior leaves a little to be desired, resist the urge to tell him off, but stay calm and comfort him until the fireworks subside and you get your loveable, friendly and well-behaved pooch back. Now take him for a walk, work off that pent up energy and have some non-firework related fun!
- Pets and fireworks – RSPCA