Fireworks Can Be Scary For Dogs: Follow These Tips To Help Your Dog Feel Calmer And Safer
There are certain times of year that are sheer hell for dogs: many dogs are scared of loud noises and bangs, especially thunder storms and fireworks. We can’t always know when a thunder storm is heading our way, but it’s guaranteed that the New Year celebrations and Bonfire Night in the UK, as well as the July 4th celebrations in the USA, are torture for any poor pup who fears fireworks.
There are lots of things that we can do to help our dogs manage the stress of fireworks. If we have time, some preparation in advance before the fireworks begin will make our pups – and us – much better equipped to deal with the fireworks once they start.
For those of you not familiar with Bonfire Night, we Brits continue to celebrate a day from 5 November 1605. On that day, Guy Fawkes, a member of the Gunpowder Plot, tried to blow up the House of Lords. Had the Gunpowder Plot been successful, it would have killed King James I.
However, Guy Fawkes was arrested whilst guarding the explosives and, to celebrate the king’s lucky survival attempt on his life, bonfires were lit around London. The day was made a public thanksgiving day and we’ve been milking it ever since. Clearly, we no longer care about some historic king’s lucky escape. What we do like though is a celebration and fireworks.
Sadly, our dogs do not share our love of fireworks and so every year they suffer our entertainment: another year of flashes and bangs, and continued nights of torture for so many pets.
WHY IS MY DOG SCARED OF FIREWORKS?
You might never get to the bottom of why your dog is afraid of fireworks, but these are some common reasons:
- Noise sensitivity, fear of various sounds
- Pain, physical sensitivity either in their ears or other part of the body
- A specific, unidentified health issue
- Lack of confidence generally, afraid of many things
- Experiencing stress
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF FEAR OF FIREWORKS IN A DOG?
These can vary from dog to dog but some common signs include:
- trembling and shaking
- whining, howling or barking
- refusing to eat
- lip licking
- drooling / dribbling
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO PREPARE IN ADVANCE BEFORE THE FIREWORKS BEGIN?
Give your dog a good walk during the day while there are no fireworks being let off. Let her expend some energy running around and indulging in sniffing. As well as taking her out, play some mentally stimulating games with her at home – there are some simple, fun games you could try here.
Make sure you take your dog to do her business as late as possible before the fireworks start. Even if she normally has great recall, during periods of fireworks keep her on a lead: there are more cases of dogs escaping and running away during fireworks than at any other time of year.
Free Work Enrichment
A fantastic form of mental exercise is to do some free work enrichment – if you’ve not tried it before, see this article for more information on how to do it.
Some great elements to incorporate into freework, or even use on their own, are snuffle mats and lickimats. The benefit to these, apart from your dog enjoying them, is that the physical action of licking and sniffing helps to lower a dog’s stress level and has a calming effect.
Prepare a cozy place at home that your dog can hide away in. Your pooch may already have her favourite spots around the house that she likes to curl up in. Such places are often closed in and cave-like. My youngest loves to snuggle up under my desk.
There are excellent cosy dog shelters that you can buy, that are portable. Something like this one, which is for indoor or outdoor use, would allow you to easily move it to a different room if necessary.
When dogs are scared, hiding away helps to ease the fear, so make sure you put blankets down in her hiding spots too.
If you can, pad out the area to dampen down the noise of the fireworks – pillows do the job pretty well. Leave a worn item of your clothing there to give your dog a familiar, reassuring smell. If you have time, encourage your dog to play with a toy in the hiding place that you have prepared, so she already begins to associate the space with feeling happy and relaxed. Leave her some treats hidden in the bedding for her to forage and find.
Prepare the environment
Close any curtains or blinds to help muffle out the noise and bright lights of the fireworks.
Have some of your dog’s favourite types of toys and treats available, ready for when the fireworks begin.
Invest in a pheromone diffuser for dogs, for instance, Adaptil. This will disperse calming chemicals and smells to help keep your pup more relaxed. Some vet practices sell them, or you can get them online. Adaptil also makes a collar that does the same job and is effective for around a month.
The smell of lavender has been shown to calm dogs, so if you don’t have an Adaptil, try burning some lavender essential oil.
Use sounds and music to calm your dog or mask the noise of fireworks
Sound therapy can be used to help dogs gradually get used to loud noises and bangs such as thunder and fireworks. Dogs Trust in the UK offer various, free, sound therapy tracks that you can download.
The tracks include have individual noises as well, so you might discover, for example, that it is the whistling more than the bangs that upset your dog, allowing you to focus on more specific help.
Of course, these are not options if the fireworks are in the next few hours – but do download them and work through them before the next fireworks!
If you don’t have time to work through the treatment before the fireworks, have some music ready to play when they start, or make sure there is a TV near your pup’s hiding spot so you can mask the fireworks sounds.
Studies have shown that certain music can help to calm dogs. The company icalmpet sells music compilations specifically for dogs. They also have a playlist on Spotify – search for iCalmDog: Through a Dog’s Ear. It’s relaxing, classical music that you can listen to along with your dog. I also use this playlist for my pooches if they’re feeling a bit under the weather or when I want them to lay quietly in their beds.
HOW TO HELP YOUR DOG STAY CALM DURING FIREWORKS
As well as doing things to help your dog stay calm, try to stay calm yourself. If you demonstrate that you are nervous and upset, this will most likely worsen your dog’s fear. It can be really stressful for us pet parents to see our dogs distressed, but showing them our agitation will not help them – try to do something that is calming and relaxing for you too.
Game playing and enrichment toys
Mental stimulation is great for helping a dog focus on thinking rather than feeling. If your dog isn’t interested in any of those lovely hiding spots you’ve prepared, and it isn’t so stressed that she’s incapable of playing, provide her with some interactive puzzles or toys.
Play games with your pup to keep her distracted from the fireworks sounds, and focussed on fun that stimulates her mind. See these games to play with your dog to encourage calming and help her benefit from scent work.
However, if your dog is too scared to play games, don’t try to force her. That will just make her more stressed.
Treats and food
You might be able to distract your pooch from the sounds of fireworks with a filled kong, or other favourite treats. You’re more likely to have success with this if you use high value treats that you know your pup goes crazy for, rather than just a bit more of her regular food. Get our great dog treat recipes here.
If you are calm, you will help your pooch to feel calmer too. Make sure you have something that you can do near your dog so you don’t need to leave her alone. It’s the perfect time to read that book you’ve been wanting to get round to! Try not to react to the fireworks sounds yourself.
If your pup becomes very anxious, consider whether the best option is simply to quietly keep her company, or to pet her. Observe your dog’s reaction to being petted when she is very nervous. If she doesn’t seem to be comforted at all by the petting, then don’t pet her.
To pet, or not to pet?
If however your dog is calmer when you stroke her, then clearly the petting helps. There has been much contradictory advice concerning whether to pet your dog or not when she is nervous, but I think this excellent article by Karolina Westlund clearly explains the pros and cons of petting a dog when it is stressed and scared.
WHAT CAN I GIVE MY DOG FOR FIREWORKS?
A special dog coat for dog anxiety, that is closely fitted and provides a gentle pressure, has been shown to calm a dog. These are also called thundershirts for dogs.
You could also have a go at a do-it-yourself version.
For very fearful dogs, you may need to consult with your vet to see if medication is an option to help calm your pup during periods like bonfire night or July 4th celebrations.
IS YOUR DOG IN PAIN?
Another thing to consider, is whether your dog’s fear of fireworks is because she has some underlying pain, resulting in pain-associated noise sensitivity. It might not be clear what’s causes a dog’s pain, so a thorough exam at the vet might be needed.
It’s really helpful to take short videos of your dog in motion – walking ahead, alongside, sitting to standing etc. Examine the videos in slow motion to see if you can identify any unusual movements, limping, avoidance of using certain parts of the body. We often don’t see these details unless we watch in slow motion. If you do find something you’re not sure of, you can show your vet the video and check it out.
TO ROUND UP …
This quick little video by the RSPCA summarises some of the tips we’ve looked at.
Another thing to consider if you’re in the USA and preparing for the 4th July is the summer heat and how it affects your dog. Read our tips and advice for protecting your pooch in the heat of the summer.