Why are some dogs scared of fireworks and some dogs not? If their exposure to fireworks when they were puppies was a positive one they are less likely to react badly when they get older.
Fireworks are unpredictable – Guy Fawkes night is just another night for your dog, so the won;t be expecting the sudden onslaught of noise that accompanies the parties. The loud noises and flashes of light will be unexpected to your dog. Each firework will look and sound different so your dog will not get the chance to get used (desensitise) to them during the evening.
Fireworks are very loud – Generally speaking fireworks make loud bangs and whizzes. To dogs, that have amazing hearing way exceeding our own, these noises can be very frightening. Some fireworks, like fountains, repeat over and over which can build the tension.
Fireworks are scarey – Many dogs perceive fireworks as a threat due to their inability to connect the noise with something tangible. Dogs hear a motor bike and then see what is causing it, fireworks aren’t like that, the noise and unpredictable. When a dog gets scared it will initiate their fight or flight response. Your dog may bark or growl at you, or it may try and run away, either way their behaviour may be very erratic. Your dog may show signs of anxiety like panting, pacing and whining. In rare cases dogs may become aggressive.
10 ways to keep your dog safe on Firework night.
1) Keep your dog inside during the time firework are set off (5pm-10:30pm) – Firework can legally be used between 5pm and 10:30pm. Feed your dog around 3:30 so they have time to be exercised well and toileted well before 5pm. A tired dog is likely to sleep through the night’s events. After the fireworks have finished make sure you take your dog out to the toilet, But please keep them on a lead if they have shown any signs of stress during the evening. Remember just because the fireworks have stopped doesn’t mean your dog has stopped being scared. The slightest thing could spook them and they could escape and run away.
2) Create a safe haven for your dog to go – If your dog is crate trained then cover their crate with a blanket and encourage them to go inside it. NEVER close the door of the crate during fireworks, if your dog gets stressed and they feel trapped they get even more stressed. If they are not crate trained then drape a blanket over a table which will provide them a den structure to hide in.
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3) If they can’t see it they won’t notice it – The sound flashes of light associated with fireworks can also cause distress to most dogs. Make sure that you close all the curtains and blinds so your dog can’t see out of the windows. Leave all the lights on, especially if you are leaving your dog home alone. This will reduce the impact of the flashes.
4) Give your dog some space to move – Make sure that you don’t confine your dog to one small room, but also don’t give them the whole house or garden. Your dog may have a favourite place where they normally chill out, so make sure they have access to this during the evening.
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5) Microchipping is a necessity – Firstly never leave your dog outside in the garden during Guy Fawkes night and the few days either side. If your dog does get through your homes defenses then the chances of getting them back is greatly increased if they have been microchipped. If your dog escapes inform Dog control straight away, it may cost you a little to get them back but you’ll be united much quicker, so less stress for your dog.
6) Make everything escape proof – Do a final check of all the outside doors and windows, make sure they are locked. You’d be amazed at how little room a dog needs to escape through a window.
The best way is to ensure your dog doesn’t have access to the exits in your house, especially if you are having guests around and the doors will be opening and closing regularly.
7) Try to drown out the sound as much as you can – Playing music is a great way to mask the sounds of the fireworks. But put the music on well before the first bangs. Playing Mozart has been shown scientifically to have a calming effect on dogs.
8) Dogs are social learner, if it doesn’t affect you it doesn’t affect them – Dogs and cats spend a lot of their time watching you, they are extremely perceptive animals and have evolved to be so. So make sure you behave as normal as possible during the evening, don’t change your routines too much (other than the walk times). Being overly affectionate to your dog will be perceived as different and could cause your dog to increase their anxiety levels, making them feel nervous and confused. The More changes you make the more anxious they can become. Reassuring is good, but don’t do it with cuddles, do it with toy play.
9) Chewing is a great way to chill – Chewing is a natural way a dog can calm themselves down so giving your dog opportunities to chew things safely will help. Buy a Kong and stuff it with tasty treats. You could have 2 or 3, a great tip is to freeze one so it’s harder to get into.
10) A vet check may be needed – If your dog really can’t cope with fireworks year in year out then seek medical help. Your vet could provide medication that could take the edge off your dog’s stress levels during this time. But be aware sometimes these drugs take a week or more to have an effect so don’t leave it too late. You could also look at natural alternatives.
Desensitising your dog to fireworks.
You can listen to firework noises on Youtube. Start by playing them quietly in the background and treating your puppy for not reacting to them. Then start to increase the volume over a few days treating so your dog forms a positive association with the sounds. Don’t rush this, let your dog tell you when it’s ok to turn the volume up. If you see signs of stress, panting, pacing ect turn it down. You want the noise to be just below threshold at all times so the dog can get used to the new level.