Top tips for keeping your dog calm during the most frightening season of the year: Fireworks season

If you have a furry companion, you have probably seen first-hand the upsetting effects that fireworks can have on animals. If you are about to adopt your first dog, you will soon learn to dislike the displays you once enjoyed watching from your window.

These household explosives make unpredictable loud noises which are very frightening to animals. They traumatise animals and this trauma can, in extreme cases, result in death.

The fear that dogs experience around fireworks can lead them to exhibit anxious and unpredictable behaviour. Some dogs will want to run and hide, others will nervously pace around, panting heavily and shaking.

Fireworks are particularly frightening for very young and very elderly dogs, even more so perhaps if they are rescue dogs who have already suffered traumatic experiences in their lives and for whom the loud noises and bright lights fireworks make may be a trigger. Companion animals are not the only animals distressed by fireworks. Fireworks also cause panic and disorientation to wildlife which can cause adult animals to abandon their young and lose their way home. It is known that livestock and horses’ pregnancies can abort from the stress caused by fireworks.

As an animal rescue, we are wholly against fireworks being permitted outside of limited, organised displays. It really doesn’t seem fair to us that animals should have to put up with erratic, ad-hoc, firework displays throughout the months of October to January which their owners cannot predict and so cannot adequately prepare for.  

A petition to ban the sale of fireworks to the general public and urging the government to limit their sale and use to licensed, organised displays only has gained hundreds of thousands of signatures. The government has not yet implemented any restrictions as a result but we are pleased to see some stores like Sainsbury’s voluntarily making the decision to stop selling fireworks out of concern for the stress that they can cause to animals, as well as elderly and vulnerable people.

It is impossible to predict every day on which fireworks might go off but you can proactively take note of the days of the year on which it is most likely that there will be displays, for example:

  1. Before, on and after Halloween (31st October);
  2. Before, on and after Bonfire Night (5th November);
  3. Before, on and after Christmas (25th December); and
  4. Before, on and after New Year (31st December).

and make sure that you have a plan in place and everything to hand everything you need to help create a calm and relaxing atmosphere for your dog. We recommend, out of an abundance of caution, that you be prepared from the week before Halloween through to the New Year.

So, what can you do to reduce the stress and anxiety caused to your precious furry companion? Here are some of our top tips to try to make firework season as bearable as possible for your dog(s):

  1. SECUREalways keep your furry companion secure inside your house during nights when fireworks could be expected. Keep your dogs close to you, with doors and windows locked. If they need the toilet, and you think, based on their behaviour around the noises so far, that they can handle being outside for a short toilet break, take them out on a secure lead or harness. Although your dog should not be outside when fireworks are going off, we recommend that you double-check that your garden is completely escape proof in the run up to firework season just in case you are caught out and a display starts earlier than expected one evening whilst your dog is in the garden off lead. This will minimise the risk of them bolting out of fear and putting themselves in danger of getting lost and hurt. Every year, hundreds of pets go missing after escaping from their family’s garden in a panic due to fireworks so we also suggest checking your dog’s microchip is working by asking your vet to scan it in the run up to firework season. This way, you can be sure that, worst comes to worst and your dog escapes, you have done everything you can to make sure that you have the best chance of being reunited with them.

 

  1. EXERCISE (mental and physical) – you may need to adapt your dog walking schedule during firework season. You should aim to take your dog(s) on a walk before it gets dark and do a longer one than usual. Throughout the day you could initiate play with their toys a number of times or give them some puzzles to encourage their minds to work hard. The aim is to tire them out and encourage them to have deep sleep in the evening whilst the fireworks are going off.

 

  1. HIDE – ensure that a safe space is available for them to hide in if needed. This could be a crate (if they are used to it), your bed, under a table or a duvet fort in the lounge. Give them options. It is wise to give them at least one choice of a sheltered safe space e.g. underneath something. If you have cats, they will most likely feel safer the higher up they are, so, for them, you could put a covered bed which they can climb into on top of a shelf or cupboard.

 

  1. REDUCE THE NOISE – classical music, radio talk shows and ready-made relaxing dog music playlists are all helpful to drown out the noise of fireworks. Studies have found classical music to have a positive effect on dogs, including reducing stress-related behaviours and encouraging relaxation behaviours. Ready-made relaxing dog music playlists specifically designed to relax dogs can be found on apps/sites including Spotify and YouTube. Shutting the curtains will also help drown out the noise as well as hiding the bright lights.

 

  1. NORMAL – try to behave as your normally would do, keeping a calm and and reassuring presence. Your dog(s) can easily pick up on a switch in your behaviour, for example, stress and anger, which can reinforce the idea to them that fireworks are something to be scared of. So although you may be stressed about fireworks and the impact they are having on your dog(s), try to refrain from shouting and/or pacing around as this will only upset your dog(s) further. Instead, try to sit with them, talk to them calmly, sing to them, smile at them and simply reassure them of your presence and support. Do not discourage or punish your pet for displaying fearful behaviour, such as cowering or hiding. You may hear some people suggesting it is sensible to avoid cuddling and comforting fearful dogs on the basis that this encourages dogs to be even more afraid of fireworks because your exaggerated affection tells them that there is something to be afraid of. We disagree. Fear cannot be reinforced. Cuddling and reassuring your frightened dog(s) is not encouraging or reinforcing their fearful behaviour, rather it is encouraging your dog(s) to have positive associations with the negative experience of fireworks. This is known as counterconditioning and is a behaviour modification technique – changing a dog’s emotional response towards a feared stimulus by encouraging them to feel an emotion that is incompatible with fear. So do not be afraid to cuddle and kiss your dog. You can also leave their toys and treats around for them to enjoy.

 

  1. DISTRACTION –make use of popular toys such as Kongs, long-lasting chews, lickmats and fun games such as treat hide and seek and interactive puzzles. These are all great ways to distract your dog from the noise outside. Prepare these in advance so they are “ready to go” when you need them. Licking and chewing are soothing behaviours for dogs, releasing endorphins which help dogs calm down in stressful situations.

 

  1. NATURAL SUPPLEMENTS – You can buy synthetically-produced pheromones to mimic the pheromones produced by a mother dog when her pups are nursing. These are useful in aiding relaxation. They can be useful in any situations where dogs feel stressed, as dogs subconsciously associate them with a sense of security and protection. Brands such as Lintbell’s Yucalm, Adaptil and Pet Remedy produce synthetic pheromones or calming supplements which can be bought in plug-in diffuser, spray, wipe or tablet form. You can also try CBD oil. CBD oil is often made to be mixed into your dog’s food but there are water soluble CBD oils available which can be sprayed directly onto your dog’s tongue for quick absorption and a calming effect. CBD ONE sells a good water soluble CBD oil.

 

  1. VET SUPPORT – if all else fails and your pet suffers severe distress around fireworks, you can ask for anxiety medication from your vet. There are many medications commonly prescribed by vets which act as a sedative, reducing noise aversion and anxiety in dogs.

In the long-term, it would be wise for you to try to desensitise your dog(s) to loud noises over a long period of time. There are some playlists on Spotify, YouTube and the like which feature the sounds of fireworks, motorbikes and other commonly loud noises. You can play these around your dog now and again inside the house, on a low volume at first but steadily increasing it, to slowly acclimatise them to hearing these noises in a positive environment. If your dog starts to react visibly to the noises on a particular volume, avoid further increasing the volume and simply leave it stable for a few minutes to help them get used to it. However, if your dog’s reaction is visibly very negative, turn the noises off immediately and, once your dog has calmed down, start playing the noises again but on a lower volume. Keep playing these noises on and off over a period of a few months, on different volume levels, until your dog no longer reacts to the noises they once found scary.

Take care this firework season!