Navigating Fireworks Season With Your Dog December 28, 2019 | Reading Time: 8 minutes
This may be your pups first firework season and you are looking for advice on ensuring a positive experience. Or perhaps you have a dog that is already worried and has shown signs of distress around loud noises.
This article covers everything you need to know and some extra tips to help make fireworks stress free!
You can find information on:
Why Your Dog Is Scared And How To Fix It
Preparing For Fireworks
It’s firework season and you are thinking about the best way to keep your pooch safe. Here are some things you need to think about:
Fireworks and loud bangs can sometimes catch us humans out, so it’s fair to say they can take your dog by surprise and ‘spook’ them.
This means they go into a state of panic and may not be able to think clearly.
This can be particularly dangerous if your dog is loose in public as they can flee and become lost, or find themselves in a dangerous situation, like on a busy road.
Ditch The Walk?
Does your dog really need a walk on a day you know there will be lots of fireworks?
Consider walking your dog earlier in the day to avoid fireworks, or not walking them at all.
Instead opt for enrichment, play, and training at home to tire their brains out. Missing one walk every now and then won’t hurt them.
Check Your Kit
It’s a good time of year to check your leads and harnesses to ensure they are fit for purpose.
Are they still well fitting? Are they showing signs of wear? If so it might be time to adjust or update your kit to make sure your dog can’t escape if they do get spooked.
Even if your dog has great recall, consider keeping them on a lead or long line if there is a risk of fireworks.
Tags Are A Legal Requirement
Also, don’t forget to make sure their tag is present and correct, and microchip details are up to date, especially if you have moved home.
As a legal requirement, your dog’s tag should have your surname and address, including postcode. We also recommend providing the best contact number for you too!
These details are important because if your dog does go missing, the quickest way to ensure you are reunited will be through up to date contact information.
Check The Perimeter
Ensure your garden is fully secure and there are no easy escape routes.
Remember a dog in a state of panic may do things they wouldn’t normally do like push through broken areas of a fence or even scale a fence that you might not think they are capable of.
If your dog is showing any signs of fear, it’s a good idea to take them out to the toilet on a lead or long line and not leave them unattended outside.
A GPS dog tracker, such as Tractive, can be a good idea if your dog is a flight risk.
Worst Case Scenario
If your dog does flee, this is what you need to do:
First: Don’t Chase
It’s important not to further scare your dog if they’re in a state of panic, as this can make it worse. Try not to chase closely behind or shout after them. Instead stay back and follow at a distance to keep track of the direction they are heading.
Second: Raise The Alarm
We are very lucky to have a great resource in Wales that is the ‘Missing Dog Team Wales’.
If your dog goes missing you can contact them and they will help you with finding your dog. They will make a poster to raise awareness of your missing dog, provide useful advice and help coordinate searches.
You can find them here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/191909128850224
Let the local dog warden know; they will be responsible for your dog if they get handed in. If they know your dog is missing it will lead to you being reunited quicker.
You can find your local dog warden here: https://www.gov.uk/check-council-missing-dog
Inform your microchip company, that way if your dogs microchip gets scanned somewhere you will be alerted.
Share information about your missing dog on local community groups on Facebook. That way the word will spread and more people will be keeping their eyes peeled when they are out and about.
The Science of Fear
Nearly half of dogs in the UK, show signs of stress to the sound of fireworks, and a third of those can be said to be distressed by them (Kennel Club, 2021).
Fireworks are loud novel noises. Unlike humans, our dogs are unable to understand the presence of fireworks.
Large explosions in the sky for the purpose of human entertainment, must seem fairly strange to other species.
The unpredictability of these unusual sounds can be frightening for dogs. Loud noises are often perceived as threatening to our canine companions, and can trigger their flight or fight response.
A dog’s hearing is much more sensitive than ours. Meaning they can often hear fireworks that we can’t even hear. Dogs can pick up 15 – 50000 vibrations per second, which in comparison to the human ability to pick up 20 – 20000 vibrations per second, is pretty impressive (Barber, et al., 2020).
Cuddles Won’t Make It Worse
A common misconception in the science of learning is that you can reinforce fear. Some people believe that by comforting your dog when they are experiencing fear, you will encourage them to be fearful more often.
This is simply not true.
Fear is an emotion.
Although reinforcing behaviours, such as sits and downs will result in these behaviours occurring more often. Fear is not a behaviour. Fear is an emotion; emotions can not be reinforced.
We wouldn’t withhold our comfort from a scared child or fearful adult.
Think about this in human terms: if you had a fear of spiders, and were shut in a room full of them; someone comforting you would not make you more fearful!
Change Your Dog’s Perception
The good news is we can change our dogs’ perception of fireworks!
Counter conditioning is a process where we pair a negative stimuli (ie. fireworks), with a positive stimuli (ie. tasty chicken), to eventually change our dogs emotional response to fireworks.
There is no quick fix.
Counter conditioning can be a long process for some dogs and the speed of success is dependent on multiple factors, such as: how fearful your dog is, how long your dog has been experiencing the fear, and how committed you are to changing their response.
Slow And Steady Wins The Race
Desensitisation to fireworks is a gradual process, that is best followed slowly to ensure no stress is experienced by your dog.
Desensitisation to fireworks involves exposing dogs to low volume fireworks and over time gradually increasing the volume and intensity of these sounds.
To understand this from a human perspective: if you lived next to a very busy road, over time you would become desensitised to the sounds and the noises from the busy road would become white noise.
Find a handy desensitisation plan, here: https://zylkenepet.co.uk/help-advice/sound-desensitisation/
Confidence is key
A dog with great confidence can take on life’s daily stressors.
A lack of confidence is often at the root of most behaviour struggles. Confidence building games can be beneficial for many dogs, particularly if they are struggling with fear or anxiety.
Set up small challenges for your dog to help build their confidence successfully, such as knocking over a plastic cup to find a treat or walking over weird surfaces like bubble wrap and tin foil.
If In Doubt, Play!
If your dog is able to have fun while fireworks are happening, get them moving and playing with you.
This is especially important for puppies or dogs who haven’t quite made up their mind if fireworks are scary or not yet.
Moving around will help burn off the adrenaline being produced by the novel event and play will help make it a positive experience.
Prepping for Fireworks
Here are some things you can do before the day to help prepare:
- Make sure someone is home with your dog.
- Switch up routines so they aren’t worried by the changes to walk schedules.
- Get long lasting chews and enrichment activities handy.
- Add some carbs such as potato or rice to their meal to make them sleepy.
- Set up a den so they have a safe space if needed.
- Close the curtains earlier than normal.
- Prepare a playlist to cover the noises.
Does My Dog Need Medication?
Maybe you have been considering getting some medication for your dog who is distressed by fireworks, or maybe you didn’t even know medication was available.
It’s good to take some time to think about it and discuss it with your vet.
However, using mediation to help ease your dog’s distress can be a really good option.
You should consider using it if your dog is so distressed that you are unable to calm them or if you are successfully working on your dog’s noise sensitivity and don’t want to be set back by experiences they are not yet ready for.
How does it help?
There are two ways that medication can help your dog when it comes to their fear of fireworks.
One is that they reduce hyperactivity in the brain, this reduces anxiety and induces a calmer state.
The other is some medications can stop your dog fully remembering the experience, which is helpful as it means that the fireworks won’t add to their existing fear. This means it won’t set back any training you’ve been doing and make their fear worse.
Medication for firework phobia has come a long way. It’s no longer recommended to use APC as it just immobilises your dog rather than help them feel better.
You will need to go to your vet and talk to them about which medication will be best suited to your dog, if they are unsure you can ask to be referred to a behaviourist so they can assist and also set you up with a training plan to address the fear so you no longer need medications in the future.
‘Do No Harm’
You have probably seen and heard all sorts of tips and tricks using different methods to help your dog feel calmer when fireworks are happening.
Some of them are anecdotal and some have evidence of effectiveness. These may not work for all dogs, but on the flipside they can help some.
That’s why we call them ‘Do No Harm’ techniques.
They may not help, but for some dogs they do, so they can be worth trying.
Thundershirts and Calm Wraps
Thundershirts are a vest that you can put on your dog that applies gentle and constant pressure to their body which may help calm your dog down. You can also get wraps or use a scarf to create the same effect.
Just be mindful your dog is actually comfortable and not shut down with stress. If they are not used to wearing a vest check they are comfortable by seeing they can still do normal activities like play and eat a treat.
Nutracalm is a supplement that has been specially formulated with natural ingredients to provide stress relief for dogs.
It is fast acting so you see results in an hour or two. It comes in capsules that you break open and sprinkle over your dog’s food so it’s easy to administer.
Some of our team have used it with their own dogs and have seen great results, so we highly recommend Nutracalm.
These diffusers emit appeasing pheromones which help dogs to relax. It works in the same way that mother dogs release pheromones to calm her puppies.
Using one of these releases those pheromones into your house so your dog can smell them.
Skullcap, Valerian And Other Herbal Remedies
These natural supplements help by aiding your dog’s nervous system and come in a variety of forms. Some of our favourites are:
CJS K9 ‘Calm Down’ Herbal Supplement
With herbal remedies its best to start using them a few weeks before fireworks season as they take time to work.
This supplement contains a natural milk protein that gives a calming effect to dogs.
Similar to Nutracalm it comes in a capsule that you then sprinkle on your dog’s food. However you need to begin doing this a few days before fireworks will occur to allow it to build up in their system to take effect.
For some dogs playing music can be a big help, even if it is just drowning out the sound of the fireworks.
However research has shown that classical music has a calming effect on dogs so it may be more beneficial than it first seems (Graham and Hepper, 2002).
We personally have found that Taiko Drumming music is best for blending in the sound of fireworks and making them less noticeable.
It’s best to try a few types of music and see what works best for your dog!
Remember you are not alone if your dog is experiencing a fear of fireworks.
Each dog is different and various methods may have to be explored to find what works best for your dog. Whether that be: calming enrichment, medication or training.
If all else fails, next year book a remote cottage and enjoy a week away from fireworks with your dog.
Fireworks can be scary but being prepared, training and medication can help.
It’s important to consider your dogs safety at this time, and know what to do if they go missing.
Thanks For Reading!
If you need more help on training your dog to change their perception of fireworks, give us a call on 02921200013 or email us at [email protected]