With halloween officially over, and bonfire night in the UK just around the corner, it’s time to celebrate with fireworks and hot cups of cocoa.
But while it might be a night to remember for us humans, fireworks and loud noises that come with bonfire night can be particularly scary for our pets, or, if you are in the USA, the Fourth of July.
Luckily there are some simple things you can do to make sure your dog stays calm during bonfire night. With this in mind, we’ve asked Carolyn Menteith, Behaviourist and Dog Trainer at tails.com, to explain why our dogs develop firework anxiety, and what owners can do to try to keep their canines calm over the weekend.
Why does my dog get anxious during fireworks
Carolyn gives her expert insight into why some dogs get anxious during fireworks.
“A lot of dogs are afraid of loud noises, especially unpredictable ones such as thunder or fireworks, which causes them fear, stress and anxiety, and as an owner, it can be distressing to watch them suffer every bonfire night.
“Without having been habituated to loud and unpredictable noises during the unique developmental period in their puppyhood when new things are accepted as being ‘a normal part of life’ and nothing to be afraid of or worried by, many dogs can grow up to suffer from noise phobia.
“While we know what fireworks are, and that they aren’t something dangerous or terrifying, our dogs don’t know that. All they know is that it is loud, unexpected and scary.
“And something that produces a strong emotional response, such as fear, won’t habituate, it will sensitise. In other words, they won’t get used to it, they’ll just get more scared and more worried about it every time it happens.”
What are the signs my dog is afraid of fireworks
When your dog is showing signs of being scared of fireworks, they can show a variety of symptoms of stress and anxiety:
- They may search for a secure place to hide. A lot of the time, our dogs will go and try to find a place that makes them feel safer and more secure – such as under a bed or other piece of furniture
- Shaking, trembling or panting
- Barking or whining
- Pacing around your house
- Excessive drooling
- Seeking comfort from their owner/becoming clingy
What can I do to keep my dog calm?
How you keep your dog calm will depend on your dog and what they respond to. We give our top tips on how to help keep dogs calm when they are stressed or anxious from fireworks.
1. Try and exercise your dog beforehand
If you know that there are going to be fireworks going on where you live, get your dog’s daily walks in early before any signs that they have started. Exercise might take the edge off any excess canine energy and make them a little more relaxed and even sleep through the quieter bangs. Most importantly give them the chance to get out to the toilet long before the fireworks begin. Feeling desperate to go to the toilet is just going to make things worse for your dog.
2. Make sure that your dog has a space they can go to during fireworks
Make sure your dog has a safe place they can go when fireworks begin to bang. For some dogs this might be a crate in a corner covered with a blanket to make a secure den – or it might be under a piece of furniture. Make sure to prepare the spot in advance with their favourite toys, treats, a blanket and a bowl of water. This way, they have somewhere they can retreat to if they feel worried.
Make sure that this spot is easily accessible and close to you – as they need your comfort as well.
If they choose to go somewhere else, let them. Don’t try and encourage them out – just make sure they have water, and stay close by them.
3. Be there to give your dog the support and comfort they need
When there are fireworks making loud noises, it is natural for your dog to look to you for reassurance – after all, you are the one who provides safety, security and love. Stay calm so you give them confidence, and give them as much – or as little – physical contact as they need.
Some dogs will get comfort from cuddling up to you while others will be happier just knowing you are nearby. If they can be distracted by a game, some training or simply food dispensing toys such as stuffed Kongs, licki mats etc, these can help give them something else to think about – but a really stressed dog can’t eat and so don’t be surprised if they refuse even their favourite morsels.
4. Try and mask the noise of thunder
Fireworks can be particularly scary to dogs, because they can hear at a much further distance than us humans can, and if everything else is silent, the booms seem even louder! Try turning on the TV or radio, having a loud conversation (even if only with your dog!) and carry on as normal.
Read more: The Top Music Tracks to Calm Your Pooch
5. Close your curtains
As well as minimising noise, you should also consider closing curtains or blinds to block out flashes from the fireworks that may be additionally unsettling for your dog.
6. Talk to your vet
If your dog is showing excessive fear of fire, and especially if it is getting worse, you should talk to your vet. Your vet may be able to suggest medication or complementary therapies that might help in severe cases as this is an area where there are several new treatments available.
7. Get help for the future
One thing you can be sure of is that fireworks and other loud noises do happen. This is a behaviour problem that isn’t going to go away without help. It is far better to work to prevent the distress and fear that noise phobia brings than to have to deal with a panicky dog when it does. Find an accredited behaviourist who can help you work on your dog’s noise phobia to help make future bonfire nights… less scary for your dog.