Halloween isn’t the final scary event in the year for your pets.
November 5th is Bonfire Night, which brings fireworks too. But as any pet owners know, the fireworks aren’t just on this one night. Petitions crop up every year to have them banned for public sale as they are so unpredictable.
Fireworks going off can cause a whole heap of issues for dog parents. From nervousness at home to dogs breaking free of their lead during walks, it is a stressful time for both pets and owners.
Autumn is the start of the Fireworks season. You may need to prepare early to ensure they are as comfortable as they can be whenever a firework goes off, and any surprise fireworks don’t cause too much distress.
PDSA’s 2018 Paw Report found that over 40% of owners of cats and dogs report that their pet is scared of fireworks, so you aren’t alone if this is an issue. Every pet can be scared of fireworks, but it is thought that it is a particular problem within the dog community.
It isn’t just fireworks that pets can be scared of, though. Other noises, such as thunderstorms, the sound of wind or rain, the vacuum cleaner or the washing machine can also be distressing.
Signs of stress in dogs
The first step is spotting when your dog is stressed and anxious towards certain noises. The signs can differ from dog to dog, but key common signals include:
- Trembling and shaking
- Wanting to be close to owners
- Excessive barking or growling
- Cowering and hiding
- Going to the toilet in the house
- Pacing and panting
- Trying to escape the home
- Refusing to eat
- Destructive behaviour
How to ensure your dog has a fright-free fireworks night
Help can be a case of trial and error. One dog may react well to one thing, and yet not feel any different from another. It may take some time to work out what is best for your pet; some could simply need distracting, while others may require more of an intervention.
Keep windows and curtains closed
This will muffle the sound of the fireworks going off, and also prevent flashing lights and other signals from being too obvious.
Black-out curtains are ideal. Dogs can associate flashing lights with noises, even if the fireworks are too far away to hear. You can also switch plenty of lights on in the home, which will limit how much they can see through the curtains.
Use calming aids
Dog calming aids exist for a reason. There are loads of different forms of calming aid, from pheromone plugins and sprays to tablets or drops which are added to food and water. You can even get something called a Thundershirt that your dog can wear, which has a comforting effect on them.
Some dog calming aids have to be given throughout the year to have the best effect. So if your dog particularly struggles with nerves, this may be something to think about. But there are also some quick fixes such as dog treats which can have a speedier result.
Not all dogs will feel any effect from these aids. It could be worth experimenting with the different kinds outside of firework season so you’re fully prepared. If none work, that can be normal.
Calming dog beds are also available.
Distract your dog with music
We aren’t condoning putting your speakers on 100% and disturbing the neighbours with Metallica to drown the bangs out.
But calming music can help keep your dog relaxed. Reggae and soft rock are the most relaxing music for dogs in shelters according to previous studies, and classical music also helps calm down dogs in stressful environments (so don’t go putting Pitbull on, either).
Classic FM in the UK partners with the RSPCA every year to host special dog-friendly shows around Fireworks night, and there are loads of Spotify playlists and YouTube videos with suitable dedicated music too
Just don’t put the music on too loud for dogs who are actually sensitive to loud noises as it won’t help. Don’t think of it as drowning out the sounds, but creating some background soothing they can focus on.
Start preparations early
Obviously, we know this isn’t always the most practical solution, but it is always worth thinking about the future.
Ensure that they are used to loud noises from the day they are settled in your home. This can start with ordinary noises such as the television, vacuum cleaner and other appliances in the home. Then you can build-up to fireworks noises, by using socialisation CDs or playlists through music streaming sites.
If your dog is concerned by fireworks, there is a good chance that other noises scare them too
Always be with them when these noises are happening, so you can comfort them and use positive reinforcement. Some behavioural experts say ignoring the noises is actually best, too. If you don’t seem bothered by them, your dog is less likely to react.
For older rescues, prepare for fireworks night well in advance as they will take a bit longer to get used to things. Ensure they are comfortable in your home first though – you don’t want to go backwards in making them feel safe.
Follow their lead
It is unlikely that your dog will ever be 100% happy with the sound of fireworks. But just because they aren’t a quivering mess doesn’t mean they aren’t still uncomfortable. Allow them to do what they want to do when fireworks are going off – if they need to hide in a dark corner, or sit on your knee, let them.
Being confined can further add to their stress levels, so don’t shut them into a room. Not only could they injure themselves or damage things if trying to get out, but they could see it as a punishment which then further makes them nervous when they hear a loud noise.
Even if you usually try and limit where they go, such as not allowing them to go upstairs, let them off for one night. Keep their crate door open too, if that is where they seem to go.
They may look to you for reassurance, so it would be good to distract them, reassure them and be calm yourself. Completely ignore the fireworks and instead, chat with the rest of the household. If they do want to hide, make a little den in their safe space and leave them be if they want to be left alone.
Keep them inside
A pretty obvious point, but it can be easy to forget that the likelihood of a firework going off can increase as soon as the dark nights start closing in.
Don’t take your dog for a walk when it is dark. Instead, encourage playing in the home to keep them entertained. If you do go outside when dusk is setting in, ensure their collar and lead are tight enough to not slip over their head. You may wish to use two leads or a training lead that attaches to both their harness and lead at the same time.
Reduce the risk of escape
As we have said, a possible sign of stress in a dog may be trying to escape. It doesn’t mean they don’t like where they are, but they just want to get away from the situation. They might not be thinking about what they are doing.
Ensure your garden is well secured in case any fireworks go off when they are at the toilet during the night. It is best to wait until the legal curfew has passed to let them out, but we know this isn’t always possible as you need to sleep!
Microchips are a legal requirement for all dogs in the UK, but you may also want to ensure their collar and an ID tag is on them at all times
Keep them hydrated
Dogs are likely to pant when nervous, and they may stop eating and drinking too.
Always ensure their water bowl is filled with fresh water either way. But if you notice that they aren’t eating or drinking, think outside the box. Chews, dog-friendly ice lollies and offering water and food from your hand are some alternatives.
Our office dog Dodger prefers to drink out of a dog water bottle when fireworks are going off, as we can take the water to wherever he is
If all else fails, consult a vet
If nothing works, don’t just give up and decide that you need to put up with it. Stress in dogs can be fatal, as it affects their heart and heat levels. So, you should never think they will simply grow out of it or get used to it.
Consult a vet, who may be able to prescribe stronger prescription calming medication. They could also point you in the direction of a behaviourist who could work on calming exercises. They will show you what to do as well as desensitising your dog.