Fireworks displays are a traditional and exciting way for us to mark Halloween, Diwali, Bonfire Night and New Year’s Eve, as well as those personal occasions that call for more enthusiastic celebrations, such as birthdays and weddings. But while we might find them thrilling and beautiful, our canine friends often do not.
Dogs and fireworks do not mix well. Research by the RSPCA has shown that almost half of all dogs show signs of fear when they hear fireworks, which is understandable as an animal has no concept that the loud, aggressive noises pose no threat to them. If your dog has previously shown signs of being frightened by fireworks or gets extremely distressed around loud noises, there are steps you can take to help them relax and ease their distress.
Around Halloween and Bonfire Night – and potentially New Year’s Eve – there is a very good chance that there will be fireworks of some sort nearby, especially if you live in highly populated parts of the country. Be prepared for the eventuality and check with your neighbours to see if they are planning anything. It pays to be prepared and ready. If a fireworks display starts unexpectedly, your panicking will only serve to make the situation worse as you dog will sense your panic and become more afraid. Around the times when fireworks are expected, walk your dogs during daylight hours, feed them before dark and never leave them outside at night. If you need to open an outside door at night during fireworks, make sure your dog is in an enclosed room elsewhere – some dogs may panic and bolt.
Allow your dog access to the spots in your house where it feels most secure, such as under beds and other furniture. Don’t try and coax them out. If they have a regular spot, leave an unwashed piece of your clothing under there so they can smell your scent and feel safe. In the run up to any fireworks displays, create a safe haven for your dog in the quietest room of the house, somewhere your dog always has access to, even if you’re not there. Allow them to create positive associations with it, by leaving their favourite toys there but make sure to change the toys regularly so that they don’t get bored of them. Never interfere with your dog while it’s in this space as it must become an area they feel totally secure, but don’t leave them there alone during fireworks. Once fireworks start, draw the curtains and put blankets over the top of the bed to dampen the sound and flashing lights. Remember to stay calm and ignore the fireworks and not to scold or try to coax your dog out of anywhere they feel safe. You can attempt to play with your dog but don’t force them. Anxious dogs pant more and can get very thirsty so ensure they’ve a good supply of water.
Once fireworks start, make sure that all the windows and blinds are shut. Stay relaxed around your dog and put on the TV or some music to help block out the sound of the fireworks. If you’re especially concerned about your dog’s anxiety level, speak to your vet about pheromone diffusers. These release calming scents to help your dog relax. Positive reinforcement can be a strong tool for scared dogs. If your dog looks frightened by a loud noise, act happy and playful with them to reassure them that nothing is wrong.
If your dog is particularly noise-phobic, there are training courses available to help them adjust. Dogs Trust has worked with two vets who are experts in animal behaviour to create Sounds Scary, a useful and free tool to help train your dog around loud noises, particularly fireworks. The course comes with a booklet and downloadable sounds to play for your dog as you train them.
Regardless of how calm your dog might be around loud noises or how much they may progress in their acceptance of fireworks; you should never take any dog to a fireworks display or leave them outside or unattended during fireworks.