Updated: Oct 11, 2022
As we enter into fireworks season, this can be such a troubling time for many dogs and their owners (and many other animals and people!). I personally absolutely love fireworks - for me they create such nostalgia of being in my childhood home, with my 3 younger brothers and my Dad would always buy us each a treat and we would have pizza and watch out the window. After this I’m reminded of renting my first lovely apartment with my son and we could see Kempton Park Racecourse display from our window and watching his little baby face light up watching the fireworks was so beautiful.
But, no matter how I feel about fireworks, some dogs absolutely hate them. The trauma that some dogs go through on nights with fireworks is so terribly sad and can leave dog owners feeling helpless.
There are many things we can do to help dogs who are worried by fireworks, and we can get started now, but the earlier on in the year you start the better. I will include some steps here for both long term, and short-term help for your dog and fireworks.
1. Noise desensitization: Our dog’s startle response is something that is developed in their critical period as puppies, so there are so many things we can do with a puppy to help them feel more comfortable around loud noises. This is something that should begin when they’re with their breeder - making sure that the pups are around loud noises with neutral or positive consequences. There are noise sensitivity apps nowadays, or even YouTube videos that can simulate noises. Start off with the noise very quiet, and gradually increase the sound over an extended period of time. I would usually suggest that if you have access to an Alexa etc, then I play the noise of fireworks/thunder etc from this, and I would place it by the window that they are more likely to be hearing the noises from. I would strongly recommend working with a Behaviourist who can set a plan specifically for you and your dog. It’s important that you don’t rush this.
2. Medication: There are medications that are specifically licensed for noise phobias such as fireworks or thunderstorms such as pexion or sileo gel, we do not want to sedate dogs with meds such as acp or diazepam - they can still feel exactly the same fear even when physically sedated, which can also lower their bite inhibition. Speak to your vet and work alongside a Behaviourist to create a plan which works for you and your dog.
3. On the day: Firstly, ensure that your home is safe and secure with doors closed and a secure garden (check this before you let them out if there has been any stormy weather). Create a safe space for your dog to hide if they need to. Wherever they feel most comfortable. That may be a covered crate, a den set up in the bathroom (apparently this can help with the pressure created during thunderstorms), hiding under the duvet with you, or even a den of cosy blankets on the sofa. Wherever works for you and your dog. Time your walks so that you are walking in daylight and avoiding any potential fireworks. You may have to change up your routine a little and feed your dog earlier so that they can go out and toilet a bit earlier to avoid the peak firework times. Check the times of any displays local to you so that you can plan and be organised. Close your curtains and keep the lights on to minimise the effects of either fireworks or lightening. Put on some loud music! Studies have shown that either soft rock or reggae can be the most helpful for dogs with noise sensitivity due to the intonation.
4. Don’t hold back from reassuring. There’s a difference between reassuring and reinforcing. Imagine you’ve had some terrible news and your friend gives you a cuddle - it doesn’t make you want to have more terrible news. If my son were to fall over and hurt himself and I pick him up and reassure him - this doesn’t make him go and do it again. There are definitely things you can do which wouldn’t be helpful - such as panicking or being overly dramatic. You have to be their calm in the chaos, being gentle and reassuring rather than panicking with them. Some dogs will not want to be touched and just need to be left to be in their safe space, and that’s ok too.
5. Think very carefully about taking your dog to a fireworks display. Unless they are absolutely bomb proof, super happy in loud noise environments and you've trained for this, or other extenuating circumstances, it is rarely an appropriate place for a dog. As the saying goes - better to be safe than sorry, and I think this applies here. I'm sure you're all very clever folk reading this, who don't need to be told. But it never hurts to put it out there!
I hope that these tips get you thinking about ways that you can help your dog get through firework season. It's always helpful to speak with a professional about a plan for your dog as an individual, so please don't hesitate to get in touch so that you can feel more confident heading towards the festivities.