My Dog is Scared of Fireworks What Can I Do? 16 Steps to a calm dog!
If your dog is scared of fireworks or suffers from any other noise anxiety such as thunderstorms then you know just how much distress these loud noises can cause. You’re here because you’re desperate to know what you can do about it.
Help is at hand! Join me as I go through my 16 tips and strategies to help calm your dog during fireworks. They might even cure their fear all together!
My dog is scared of fireworks. What can i do?
Address noise sensitivities straight away
Prepare well in advance
Talk to your vet, behaviorist or trainer
Exercise and toilet your dog in the afternoon
Always keep your dog inside
Close the curtains
Use background noise or music
Have a safe space for your dog
Use distracting toys and treats
Try a thundershirt
Use pheromones, supplements and medication
Monitor, modify, maintain
Long Term Planning to Reduce Firework Fear
Take action early
So my very first tip is to start dealing with the problem early. At the earliest sign that your dog is becoming scared of fireworks or any other loud noises.
Don't leave it until your dog is really, really anxious and the problem is becoming unbearable. This is because the problem will only get worse without intervention. A noise sensitivity will progress to anxiety and then a full blown phobia will develop. By this stage your dog will effectively be having a panic attack whenever they hear fireworks (or thunder).
People describe panic attacks as feeling like they are going to die. Your dog will end up feeling the same which is why they can be so destructive.
Apart from being so much more severe, once a phobia develops then that's something that we're not going to be able to reverse. If instead you tackle a fear of loud noises at the earliest sign of a problem, then there is a chance that with all the following strategies you will be able to not only control the fear of fireworks but potentially even reverse and cure the sensitivity and the fear that they're experiencing.
Tip number two is to prepare well in advance. There's no point rushing around like a headless chicken in an absolute panic gathering supplies on the afternoon of the fireworks.
You really need to be thinking about these strategies and what will work for your dog early. This means weeks or months in advance of fireworks season.
Fireworks are often at very predictable times of year to make regular holidays or events. This might be Guy Fawkes or bonfire night in the UK, it might be 4th July in the US, Diwali in India or New Year across the globe. So wherever you are in the world, the chances are the fireworks will be predictable.
This means you have the luxury of preparing early and knowing just how much time you and your dog have to get prepared before the next firework display is due. Don't leave it til the last minute.
Get professional help and advice
Tip number three is just to talk to a professional. That might be your vet, an animal behaviorist or a reputable dog trainer. They're going to give you some really excellent strategies that will help your individual dog.
Again, asking early is key. Of course help will be given if your dog is at the severe end of the firework phobia spectrum but any help may be less successful and will take longer to kick in.
Don't leave it until you've tried everything else imaginable and despite this your dog’s fear of fireworks is getting worse; seek that professional help early.
Going through the process of desensitization aims to not only reduce your dogs firework fear, but also has the potential to get rid of it completely!
What this involves is playing the noise of fireworks at very low levels on your speakers at home while your dog is otherwise distracted so they're not paying attention to the noise. To distract your dog you could be playing with them, teaching them some tricks or better yet keeping them occupied with a high value treat such as a frozen Kong, puzzle feeder or snuffle mat (and these will be useful later as I’ll discuss in strategy 12!).
When your dog is completely comfortable with that volume, and has been for a few sessions in a row, you can simply turn up the firework soundtrack a little louder next time. Going slowly is really important, never rushing to get to high, more realistic, volumes. We don't ever want to get to a stage where that noise is causing a fearful dog to become anxious.
Desensitization takes time, effort and long term commitment. The whole process will take many months and can be set back if a real firework event takes place. Ideally then you want to start during a firework free time of year with several months up your sleeve before the main event.
If your dog has a true phobia then desensitization is likely to make little difference, or at least take a serious long term commitment to reduce your dog’s fear response. If though you start early (I’ve said this a few times now!) then you may be able to completely eliminate your dogs mild firework sensitivity.
Teaching your dog to relax, or to calm on cue, is step number 5. To do this you will ideally talk to a local dog trainer (which I am not!) about the best strategies to employ for your dog.
Essentially you are teaching your dog to assume a position in a relaxed manner and then rewarding them for this. They will then get a lot of reassurance when performing this command during a firework display, knowing they will be rewarded for staying calm and relaxing.
The Day of The Fireworks
So that’s the first five strategies all about what you can do in the long term before the actual fireworks take place. My next strategies are all about how you could manage your dog on the day of fireworks and during the actual firework display itself.
Exercise Well and Toilet Early
When you know fireworks are expected, take your dog for a long walk that afternoon before dark. Give them a really big run and exercise them hard so they're tired and they don't have excess energy to burn. Also, make sure you take them out late afternoon, before it's getting dark, so that they can go to the toilet.
What you don't want is to either be caught out when the fireworks start, for your dog to be bursting for the toilet or for them to have bags of energy because they've not been exercised all day.
Following on from this is that when the fireworks are going off you definitely want to keep your dog indoors.
Taking them out would open up the potential for them to panic, slip their collar or pull their lead out of your hands and escape. They could then hurt themselves in their panic to escape, get lost or even something more serious like running across a road and being hit by a car.
It’s a much better idea to keep them safely inside all night.
Close the curtains
Tip 8 is to keep your curtains closed (and if you've got blackout blinds or shutters that's even better). What this does is help to dull the noise of the fireworks and also cut out the flashes of light that accompany every rocket explosion or catherine wheel whistle.
You might very well find that because fireworks always also involve bright flashing lights, then that visual stimulation is actually all part of your dog’s fear of fireworks.
By eliminating the flashing lights and dulling the noise your day may be much more calm.
Background noise and relaxing music
To further dull and hide the noise of the fireworks, turn on background music. There are CDs and downloads that claim to really help calm anxious dogs as well as dogs that are suffering from any kind of noise phobia specifically. I've not had any personal experience using them but it seems from reviews that they can make a huge amount of difference (see for yourself here).
Other alternatives would be to turn the TV or radio on. You can also have some background white noise as well. This might be the dishwasher or the washing machine running. It could also be turning the radio on to play static.
You want any background noise to be sounds they are used to, and while you want to use them to help mask and drown out the fireworks, you don’t want to play them unbearably loudly.
Safe space for your dog
Strategy number 10 to help keep your dog calm during fireworks is to provide your dog with a safe space. This could be their crate and you can put some blankets over the top to help further dull noise and reduce any light flashes. It could be the space round the back of the sofa. Even just a bed in a quiet internal room.
You don't want to confine your dog if they're not used to it. If they're crate trained and happy to be shut in that’s great, but you don't want to confine them if that's not what they used to.
That said provide a safe space for your dog to go and to take themselves off to when they're feeling stressed. Ideally this is a space that they would have access to at all other times of the day and night throughout the year, so it can also be a comfort during other times of stress.
Comfort your dog
This one might be a little bit controversial, with some people saying that if your dog is anxious, if they're scared and you comfort them, then that can reinforce that behavior. I definitely think this can be the case, especially if a dog is just a little bit anxious and we're making a big fuss of them.
My suggestion however would be to avoid making a big fuss but instead just provide a calming presence. Provide a little bit of physical contact, talk to your dog in a gentle and calming voice. This can really help take the edge off any anxiety that they're experiencing.
Distracting, stimulating toys and treats
This is where your desensitization tools get reused! This could be a frozen Kong (like I discuss making in this article), it could be a puzzle toy, it could be a snuffle mat. Anything where your dog has to use their brain, concentrate and focus on something else and to get a tasty reward.
This is going to take your dog's mind off the fireworks and the noises that are going on. If you've got the noise dulled because the curtains are closed, if you've got some other background music playing and you combine these strategies with a task that causes them to focus on a reward, this can all combine to help completely take your dog's mind off the fireworks.
A thundershirt is a full body wrap that is elasticated and snug fitting to provide a gentle pressure over your dog’s body. Think of it like a full body cuddle for your dog. A thundershirt produces a calming effect on many dogs that can be used in all manner of stressful situations from separation anxiety to traveling to, you guessed it, a fear of fireworks or thunder.
There is a claimed 80% success rate and I have certainly heard many of my clients rave about how their dogs thundershirts made a big difference to their dogs anxiety levels.
You can read the reviews here, and if you do decide to buy one, just make sure you get the right size as too small will be uncomfortable and too big won’t work
Drugs to give your dog for firework anxiety
Strategy 14 is to use medication of which there are 3 main different types.
The first form is to use a pheromone treatment. This is something known as dog appeasing pheromone (DAP) branded as Adaptil. It comes either as a plug-in diffuser, which is great if your dog stays in one main room, or collar.
What the pheromone does is to help your dog feel safe, calm and that where they are is their safe space.
If your dog has a severe phobia and completely freak out during fireworks then Adaptil is unlikely to make much of a difference (although it may help a little). For dogs with just a slight anxiety however, especially when combined with some other strategies, DAP
Finally there are the actual pharmaceutical medications available from your vet (though you should definitely talk to your vet about which, if any, supplements are safe and appropriate for your dog). You need to talk to your vet in advance of any fireworks so that a treatment plan can be formulated and in many cases tested prior to a night of fireworks.
Monitor, modify, maintain
This 3 step plan involves first monitoring the response to the treatment strategies that you're putting in place. Based on this information you can make any changes or additions that you feel need to be made before the next event.
Once you find a strategy that really works then maintain your effort. It is easy to forget to carry out a certain task or to slack off if your dog seems to be getting over their fear. What's going to happen is your dog is very likely to develop a fear of fireworks for the second time if steps aren’t in place to keep them calm every time.
Monitor, modify, maintain!
And my final tip to help your dog cope with fireworks is simply don't punish them for anything they do while they are anxious, scared or terrified. It’s only going to make the situation worse.
What's going to happen is they'll hear fireworks and they're then going to be terrified of the fireworks but that also terrified of you and what your response is going. This is because they will learn to associate fireworks with you punishing them. Simply don’t punish your dog no matter how challenging their behavior becomes during a firework show..
I really hope all these strategies help you and your dog cope with fireworks. I'd love to hear from you. What do you think will work best for your dog? If you've tried any of these strategies what's helped? What maybe didn't make so much difference? Is there anything else that's helped your dog get over their fear of fireworks?
Leave a comment to help others who are also struggling with this challenging behavior in their dog.
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