Dogs & Fireworks

08 January 2020, Aimee Orme

Fireworks are scary for dogs. In fact, most animals find them terrifying! They are loud for us, but sound even louder to a pet's sensitive hearing. They are exceptionally bright, and they go off at totally random intervals, sometimes for minutes at a time. They are unpredictable. The first thing to address is safety. Avoid walking your dog after dark, when the risk of fireworks going off is much higher, although there are some people who insist on letting them off during the day too. If you absolutely cannot avoid taking your dog out, make sure they are in a secure harness or collar that they cannot escape from if they panic. Make sure that their microchip number is registered with your trusted veterinary clinic and the municipality. Make sure they have a collar on with their municipality tag and a separate tag with your address and contact number on. This will make it easier for you to be reunited with your pet in the even of them escaping. If your dog is normally an outside dog, please bring them inside just for those nights when fireworks are being let off. They’d much rather be with you and being inside reduces the noise and effects of fireworks. The next step is to try and make your pet as comfortable and relaxed as possible. These steps work for new dogs and puppies and for those with an existing phobia that you have been unable to manage behaviour modification on. First, provide them with a safe place. Many dogs prefer to be under or in something secure, this could be a crate (with the door open) covered in a blanket, or under a bed, coffee table or dining table. Don’t try and bring them out from under the table if this is where they feel safe, when your dog is extremely stressed you do risk being bitten. Make sure there are lights on, and curtains are closed so they cannot see the fireworks as easily. Turn the television on loud or play some calming classical music loudly. Do consider using some of the more commonly used calming remedies and techniques. Pet Remedy spray is an excellent product for periods of stress and worry for your pet. You can spray it on bedding, the sofa, anywhere essentially. A bandana, with some of the spray on it, tied around your dog’s neck can also be effective. There are also a variety of calming treats and chews available on the market. These are helpful when given a couple of hours before fireworks are due to start. You can also speak with your vet about the use of calming medications, there are some that are available without prescription. Very severe noise and firework phobias may need prescription medication. One final calming method that can really help is a body wrap such as a Thundershirt. A tight bodywrap works on pressure points to calm your dog. This can also be done using a scarf or a tight t-shirt. It may be that you need to use all of these methods at once to begin with. One thing on its own may not be enough to reduce your dog’s fear. Do not, under any circumstances, take your pet out to see the fireworks in an attempt to introduce them to fireworks, or to make them "face their fears". You risk making things a whole lot worse, such as creating a generalised noise phobia. If you know your pet has a phobia of fireworks consider working with a force - free qualified behaviourist to help you through a programme that will enable your pet to become more comfortable and relaxed with fireworks. Treating a firework phobic dog can be tricky, due to the unpredictable nature of fireworks. Treatment involves the use desensitisation and counter-conditioning (controlled exposure and changing how the dog feels) to the noise and sight of fireworks. For example, there are many firework videos and sound effects that can be bought found on the internet. You would start with the sound playing very, very low level, barely audible, and then using your dog’s favourite high value food or toy you would sit and feed your dog for a few seconds. Then we increase the duration that it plays for. Then we increase the volume. Big disclaimer this should be done in conjunction with a behaviour professional who can coach you through the process and make sure that your dog is not stressed out by this process. Simple exposure is not enough. It must be gentle and positive to achieve the results that we want. Current research is also pointing towards the positive and effective use of play for firework phobias. This can be utilised during fireworks if they surprise you and your dog is relaxed enough and it can be used to prevent issues with fireworks in puppies and new rescues. Try as much as is possible to not leave your pet home alone when there are fireworks happening. Do consider using a pet sitter to keep them company or sending them to a boarding facility that is away from known firework displays, if you cannot be at home with your pet. One final thing to note, that comes up again and again, is the statement that you should not comfort your scared pet, to ignore them instead, that you will "reward the fear" if you do. This is at best rubbish and at worst rather cruel advice. If you are scared or worried by something, and someone reaches out and reassures you, you feel comforted in that moment, a little calmer. You don't become more fearful. You cannot reward an emotion. Providing your pet with cuddles if he wishes, a calming voice and soothing words will definitely help. Written by Aimee Orme Aimee Orme owns and operates Pawfect Behaviour, a Dubai based pet behaviour company. A life long animal lover Aimee is a firm believer in positive dog training methods that are force free. She has two animal behaviour degrees and is a member of the PPG and the IMDT and has 10 years professional dog training experience.