How to help your dog deal with fireworks
Fireworks are a sign of celebration, typically signifying Bonfire night or the changeover into the New Year. Although many people might love watching a firework display, our dogs sadly don’t feel the same way.
As the New Year approaches and you’re planning your parties and celebrations, make sure you take your dog into consideration. Most dogs find fireworks threatening and terrifying, so these celebrations will probably be your pooch’s worst nightmare.
Ideally, sack off any party plans and stick around to provide comfort to your dog. What could be better than bringing in the New Year with your four-legged, furry best friend?
We’re going to give you all of our top tips on how to help your dog feel safe and calm during firework season.
Why are dogs scared of fireworks?
Studies report that around half of the canine population experience some sort of fear response to fireworks. The bangs, pops and whizzes of a firework are incredibly loud, often making us jump out of our skin if they happen unexpectedly. A dog’s hearing is much more finely tuned, so these loud noises will be even more extreme.
Our dogs don’t know what fireworks are, where they’re coming from or when the next one will be let off. Also, their sensitive hearing will make the bangs seem like they’re happening much closer to them than they are, emphasising your dog’s feelings of anxiety.
Way, way back, our dogs were wild animals who needed to have impeccable survival instincts. They’ve retained this instinct to this day, and the blaring, sudden bangs of the fireworks may trigger your dog’s natural fight or flight response, causing them to be erratic, unpredictable and tense for the entire night.
New Year’s Eve and Bonfire Night are two nights of the year where dogs commonly try and run away from their homes due to this survival response.
Alongside fireworks, these nights of celebration are often paired with large crowds of people, a change to normal routine and sometimes your dog might be placed in unfamiliar environments. All in all, festive periods are often incredibly stressful times for pooches, it's not only the fireworks that cause distress. For example, Christmastime brings many other stressful experiences for our four-legged friends, so as a pet parent you must try and do everything you can to keep your pooch safe and stress-free during the festivities.
How can I tell if my dog is stressed by the fireworks?
Stress presents itself in various different ways, and you’ll probably have an idea about how your dog usually responds to negative situations. Look out for these common signs of stress during firework season:
- Excessive yawning
- Toileting in the house
- Hiding and cowering behind furniture
- Tail between legs
- Increased grooming
- Destructive behaviour, such as chewing
Signs such as excessive yawning and drooling are pretty subtle, but they’re tell-tale signs of anxiety, so keep a sharp eye out for these body language cues.
How to help your dog with fireworks
This is a distressing time, so as a pooch parent you must try and do everything you can to reassure, comfort and make sure your four-legged friend feels safe and relaxed. There are loads of ways to do this, and one of the main ones is to try and desensitise your dog to the noisy bangs of fireworks.
If you’ve got a young puppy, start early with the socialisation and desensitisation process, but don’t worry if you’ve got an adult dog, you can start this process at any age.
Desensitising your dog to fireworks
Desensitisation and counterconditioning is one of the most effective ways of combatting firework fear for good, with a study reporting that it had an approximately 70% success rate in a large cohort of dogs who experienced fearful behaviour towards fireworks.
To begin the desensitisation process, you should find an audio clip of fireworks and play it around your dog at an very low volume. You need the volume to be that quiet that your dog doesn’t even flinch or look up to the sound.
Up the volume
Once you think your dog is used to that initial sound, start to up the ante. Do this gradually, you don’t want to start with the volume being barely there and suddenly it’s blasting throughout the house.
Increase the sound little by little over a long period of time, it’s best to start this a long time before Bonfire Night or New Year’s Eve so your dog is ready prepared. Slow and steady wins the race.
Desensitisation is the most effective when it’s paired with counterconditioning. This is when you try and change your dog’s perception to something, so in this case, changing your dog’s negative views and feelings towards fireworks into a positive feeling.
To do this, you’ll need to play the firework audio at a level your dog is comfortable with and offer them some high-value food or playtime as an incentive.
This way, they’ll start to associate the treats and play sessions with the sound of fireworks, and they’ll hopefully start to see the sound as something that brings a positive experience. Making this work relies on consistent training and a high-value incentive to use as a reward.
On the night
When the fireworks begin, try and make your dog’s surroundings as comfortable, safe and quiet as possible.
Shut all the blinds and curtains so your dog doesn’t see any of the flashing lights outside, as these will be puzzling and daunting for your dog. Sorry, that means you won’t get to watch the display either!
Turn on the TV or play calming music to try and muffle out the bangs and pops of the fireworks, hopefully making your dog less jumpy to the sound.
A good thing to do is have a quiet, safe and comfy den set up for your dog, one where they’ll feel comfortable to retreat to if they feel overwhelmed. Fill this with their favourite toys, bedding and chews, along with fun feeders and puzzle games to offer distraction.
However, some dogs probably won’t even entertain the idea of going into a separate room to you while the fireworks are happening, and in this case, you need to be on hand to offer cuddles and comfort.
Feeding and playing with your dog during the fireworks are reported to be one of the most effective ways to improve your dog’s response. Basically, try and do whatever your dog wishes, if they want your reassurance and comfort, provide it to them, if they want space to hide away, leave them be.
Ideally, you don’t want to jumble up your dog’s normal routine when the fireworks are happening, everything should stay as normal as possible. This can be hard if you’re wanting to make plans for New Year’s Eve, but don’t leave your dog on their own for hours if you know they’re likely to be anxious.
If you can stay in with your dog this New Year then we urge you to do so, it'll also give you some time to think of some New Year's resolutions for you and your dog!
If you’re wanting to attend a party, arrange for someone to come and sit in with your furry friend to provide company and comfort.
Other ways to help out your dog during firework season
- Walk your dog during the day to avoid times when fireworks are normally lit
- Make sure their walk is long and tiring to encourage relaxation at night
- Keep them on a lead if you’re outside in case they get spooked and bolt away
- Go outside with your dog when they need the toilet to reassure them that they’re safe
- Ensure their microchip and ID information is accurate in case they make an escape
- It goes without saying, but never punish your dog for their fearful response
- Be calm and ignore the fireworks, if you act unusually your dog will too
- Loads of mental enrichment, lickimats, kongs, snuffle mats
- Praise their calm behaviour
- Anxiety jackets are tight coats to make your dog feel secure, similar to a baby being swaddled
- Specific calming and anxiety relieving products
- Make sure everything in the house is secure so they can’t escape if they do get spooked
These are all short-term solutions to get your dog through the night, the best thing you can do for your dog is the desensitisation process mentioned earlier. It might take some patience and months of practice, but it’ll be worth it for both you and your dog in the long run.
Realistically, it doesn’t take too much effort from you, all you need to do is play the audio and monitor your dog’s reaction, alongside providing plenty of treats and playtime.
Both Bonfire Night and New Year’s Eve are stressful times for our pooches, even though they’re meant to be times of celebration for us humans.
Understanding when your dog is feeling anxious and knowing what tips and tricks you can implement to help out is the best thing you can do for your dog during these stressful times.
Your dog will probably never be happy about the bangs and whizzes of fireworks, but if they can learn to tolerate them it’ll make a world of difference. Be there to comfort your dog and this way, you can bring in the New Year together!
- Not a one-way road—Severity, progression and prevention of firework fears in dogs PLOS One, Sept 2019, doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0218150
- Effectiveness of treatments for firework fears in dogs Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, 37, May-June 2020, 61-70, doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2020.04.005