How to help your dog cope with fireworks

While Coronavirus is likely to limit the number of public displays of fireworks and large gatherings to celebrate events such as fireworks night and New Year’s Eve, people will still be letting off fireworks in their own back gardens. In fact, we are probably going to see more ‘home-grown’ fireworks displays than ever before. This means the noise and lights will be closer to home than ever for those who live in urban areas.

For dogs who suffer with a fireworks phobia, this is sure to pose a real issue. The closer they sense the ‘threat’ the more chance they will find it hard to cope and become anxious and stressed.

Owners who have already witnessed a dog with a fireworks phobia will know the tell-tale signs all too well. From panting and barking to pacing and being destructive, it is not a pretty sight. Once the bangs and whooshes start, it can be nigh on impossible to calm these terrified pooches down. Thankfully, there are plans which can be put in place long before fireworks season starts.

Desensitization

As with so many things, prevention is better than cure. If we can work with our dog to never develop a fear of fireworks, we will be saving both the dog and ourselves a lot of trouble down the line. This should begin in puppyhood. It’s vital to expose young dogs to loud noises such as fireworks, car horns, lorries, babies crying etc. in a calm environment. Make sure to reward them with vocal praise and treats when they respond positively. This way, they associate the fireworks with something good. Of course, it will rarely be possible to do this with actual fireworks, so videos and tapes make a good substitute. Always begin slowly and work your way up. Increase the volume over time, ensuring there are no subtle signs that the dog is becoming worried. It may take a good few weeks before you feel you can raise the tape to full volume and leave it playing. Even after completing the programme, continue to play the tapes at regular intervals. This process is known as desensitization.

Of course, for many reasons, dogs will not have had the opportunity to get used to fireworks in a controlled manner. In these individuals, we can still try the desensitization programme to reverse the fear and build confidence, though it will usually take longer to see effects.

Short term solutions for a dog who is phobic of fireworks

In the short-term, there are other things that can be done to reduce anxiety around fireworks season. These methods will also be effective for those who have been through desensitization programmes and are still a little on edge.

  • Calming medication. Not something that should be seen as a magic bullet, some calming medicines can help to settle the nerves. They range from natural calming supplements that are given in the food each day to prescription strength sedatives. Discuss this option with your vet if you would like to know if your pet is a suitable candidate.
  • Avoid evening walks. Try to ensure you have let your dog out for a pee before the sun is down. It’s best for them to stay inside the home, away from windows.
  • Tire them out. During the day, go on a big long hike and play lots of ‘brain training’ games to tire them out both mentally and physically. The hope is that they won’t have any energy left to even react to the loud bangs overhead!
  • Create a den. A warm, cuddly bed in the heart of the house in a room with the doors closed is ideal. Have the radio or TV on high and try hard to mask the light and noise from the fireworks as much as possible.
  • Distract away. Try to give your dog something to distract them, such as a frozen Kong or a long-lasting chew.

Practice what you preach. It is imperative that you stay calm too. Try to avoid the urge to cuddle your dog and fawn over them as this may make them even more worried. Instead, act easy-breezy and hopefully they will follow suit.