Firework season is often scary for your best friend, so what do you need to know about dogs and fireworks – and how can you keep your furry friend calm and safe?
Fireworks season, the time for wrapping up warm, sipping on hot chocolate and perhaps enjoying a fireworks display with friends and family? It can be… but for some family members, fireworks night = fright night. So what do you need to know about dogs and fireworks – and how can you keep your best friend calm and safe?
When you stop to think about it, our dogs do incredibly well to adapt to our busy lives and human habits. However, there are some elements of our world that they find a bit challenging and scary. One of the most common fear triggers is fireworks night. Did you know that a whopping 45% of owners think their dogs are fearful of fireworks* ? Unfortunately, the real number is likely to be even higher, as some signs that dogs are worried are less obvious. Fear is a natural and understandable response to the unpredictable sights, sounds, vibrations and smells of fireworks. So what can we do to help support our dogs and keep them safe this winter? Spotting the signs
It starts with understanding when your dog is worried. Your dog says a lot about how he or she feels through behaviour and body language. Signs that they are stressed or worried include:
They may become more clingy or come to you for lots of cuddles, go off their food, be more destructive than normal, or even have accidents inside the house. Every dog is different, so they may show one – or many – signs.
Dogs and fireworks: practical ways to help
Thankfully, there are many ways to help your dog find fireworks less scary – so let’s take a closer look. From short-term solutions to reach for at the last minute, through to long-term support to help your dog feel happier and more confident around scary bangs and whizzes, it’s all covered.
Long-term support – 6 months+ ahead Ideally, it’s best to think long-term and get expert advice from a certified Clinical Animal Behaviourist. This may sound extreme, but dogs who are worried about fireworks become ‘sensitised’. This means that rather than fireworks being a part of normal life, they associate them with feelings of fear. And unfortunately, a fear of fireworks often escalates to become generalised to other noises. This is why early intervention is best to stop your dog’s fear getting worse and appearing in more situations. Behaviour therapy can support your dog to feel better with long-lasting effects. Your behaviourist is the best person to advise you with a plan tailored to your dog’s needs, and will provide behaviour therapy is all about teaching your dog something new about the things they are scared of. One technique a behaviourist might include is sound therapy – though there are other options to suit different dogs. Dr Emily Blackwell BSc (Hons) PhD CCAB, explains in this video:
Planning ahead – 1-4 weeks before firework season
Find out the dates of organised firework events in your area so that you can add them to your diary and have time to prepare and be around to support your dog. Unfortunately, fireworks are rarely confined to 5th November – they often whizz, pop and bang in back gardens all winter long, so it’s worth being mindful from October right through until January!
Consider a calming supplement
Calming supplements can really help dogs who react to fireworks. Our option – YuCALM Dog – is a premium, all-natural supplement that provides support for stressed or anxious dogs. The clever combination of triple action ingredients work on the calming pathways in the brain to help reduce stress and support dogs towards feeling better. Use it as part of a combined approach to changing feelings and responses to scary situations, including fireworks. You can give it as part of your first steps towards rehabilitation as well as part of a longer-term behaviour therapy programme. Start your best friend on YuCALM Dog with at least a week before a known event, but remember that it may take up to 6 weeks to see best results.
Manage your dog’s environment and experiences
While YuCALM Dog plays a role in supporting your dog, it’s really important that their external environment is managed too – more on that in the next section. It’s also vital that your dog is taught new, positive ways to feel and behave towards the world around them as mentioned above. The best way to do this is by working with a certified Clinical Animal Behaviourist who has up-to-date skills, knowledge and experience. Inappropriate or out-dated advice can do more harm than good to your dog’s behaviour and welfare, so be sure to check qualifications and references carefully.
Home comforts for dogs on fireworks night
Managing your dog’s environment is the next step in helping your dog feel better when fireworks are on the cards. There are many ways to prepare in advance. We suggest that you:
Provide a safe space
Many dogs feel safer hiding under the table, behind the sofa or beneath a bed. Leaving a scary situation is a natural response so it’s really important that your dog has access to a safe, private place. Try to make their chosen spot as comfortable as possible – they’ll feel extra safe if you use familiar bedding, treats or favourite toys and cover the area with a blanket – though make sure there is enough air. If your dog hasn’t already got a hiding place, set up a den a few weeks in advance of firework season and help them get to know it as a positive place to go. Allow your dog free access, without using any force. Never put your dog in their safe space for confinement.
Reduce the visual impact
You can help to reduce the visual impact of fireworks by keeping curtains and blinds closed – it can be worth using black-out blinds, or adding a duvet or blanket over your regular curtains if they’re thin. This will muffle the sound, too.
Prepare a chilled soundtrack
There are special sound tracks that help dogs cope with stressful or noisy situations – see if you can find a CD, or search for a playlist if you use Spotify.
Invest in a Thundershirt
Thundershirts or wrap shirts give your dog the feeling of a comforting hug, and lots of dogs find them calming. Order in advance and get your dog used to the feeling before the bangs start for best effect.
On the day – practical tips for fearful dogs and fireworks
When the fireworks begin, here are our suggestions to manage your dog’s environment and keep them safe:
Keep the lights on
By keeping some lights on, shutting the curtains and providing secondary curtaining, you’ll reduce the contrast of any flashing lights outside, and muffle the sound too.
Walkies before dark
Exercising your dog before dusk will reduce your chances of experiencing fireworks whilst out and about. It’s really important to keep your dog on a lead – if a firework were to go off and startle your dog they may run away or into the road. The double security of a harness and a collar can make sense in fireworks season.
Skip the displays
It’s also important to never take your dog to an event where there are likely to be fireworks – even if you don’t think that they are afraid. You may not spot the subtle signs that they’re uncomfortable in all the excitement, and any accidents could see them become fearful in the future.
Make sure your dog stays inside so that they don’t bolt or escape. Be really careful when opening your door to visitors, keep windows shut, and try not to take trips to the garden when there is a chance of fireworks happening.
Update their chip and check their collar or harness
Is your dog’s collar or harness in good condition? Is your pet micro-chipped and wearing an identity tag? This is important for cats too – running away is a common stress response so it’s important to take every precaution. If they need a toilet trip after dark, pop their collar or harness and lead on – scared dogs are the ultimate escape artists, so don’t take the risk.
Being a brilliant friend – ways you can support your dog
Our actions as friends and ‘pet parents’ have a tangible effect on how our dogs feel. There are things you can do that will make a real difference:
Keep calm and carry on with the cuddles
Your dog will feel much more relaxed with you at home too – so try and swap nights out for snuggles on the sofa during firework season. Whilst it’s upsetting to see your dog in distress, it’s really important to keep calm yourself to support your dog. And if you’ve prepared well, you know you’re doing all you can to help.
Remember that it’s important to be consistent, kind and fair with your dog when they’re worried – never get frustrated or angry. This only makes them feel worse, and could damage your relationship as their safe and positive friend!
Don’t make too much fuss
It’s natural to want to comfort your dog when they are worried, but be careful not to overdo it. If they choose to be next to you, it’s great to give calm, quiet attention as you usually would. But don’t call your dog to you if you see them showing signs of fear – if you’re worried, they’ll pick up on it, which can give them more reason to feel afraid.
Try play and feed treats
Favourite treats, toys or new games can be a great distraction for some dogs, if they are interested. This is not a good idea if your dog has chosen to hide, or seems overwhelmed. Don’t force anything, and be guided by their level of interest and appetite. How does your dog cope on fireworks night? Do you have any ideas, tips, suggestions or comments? Let us know below, or join in the conversation on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
*Kynetec VetTrak Sales Data, MAT values (August 2017)
References Blackwell, E. J., Bradshaw, J. W. D. & Casey, R. A. (2013). Fear responses to noises in domestic dogs: Prevalence, risk factors and co-occurrence with other fear related behaviour. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 145, 15-25.