Remember remember, the fifth of November!
Firework displays, such as those on Bonfire Night, can be a time for excitement and celebration for us. But for our pets, they often bring loud noises and bright lights that can trigger signs of stress and anxiety.
As responsible pet parents, it’s our duty to help our dogs cope with stress during a fireworks display and create a safe sense of security for them. I remember Isla’s first Bonfire Night last year. It was a worry that she’d be anxious of the loud sounds, but luckily with enough preparation and support from her fellow pack members, she coped very well with the unfamiliar noises!
In this blog I’ll be highlighting my top tips for how you can help calm your dog during firework displays. I’ll also offer advice on how to start desensitising your dog to loud noises, in preparation for events when fireworks might be used nearby. I hope you find it useful!
Understanding noise aversion
Dogs have exceptional hearing. It always astounds me when all six of my dogs come racing back to me across a field in response to a faint whistle. So, it’s no wonder that the sound of fireworks can cause signs of fear and anxiety in some dogs.
Fearful dogs might be scared. They might hide by seeking a safe space or hiding place, or show stress-related behaviours in response to loud sounds. This noise aversion is a stressful challenge faced by many pet owners nationwide, myself included! It’s especially difficult during Bonfire Night and other firework-heavy celebrations such as New Year’s Eve.
It’s not always easy to know why your dog might be afraid of fireworks. Some dogs can genetically inherit a noise phobia, whilst others may develop a negative association with loud sounds at a young age. It is not a ‘naughty’ behaviour, but an involuntary response to a fear trigger.
I believe that acknowledging your dog’s fear is the first step in helping them cope with loud booms and scary sounds.
How to help your dog cope with stress during fireworks
If your dog has a fear of fireworks, you might dread the sound of loud bangs outside your house. Try not to worry! The good news is there are lots of things you can do to help your dog create a positive association with loud noises. But first, it’s important for you to stay calm. Dogs very easily feed off their owner’s body language and mood. So, if you’re feeling uneasy, it’s likely your dog will be too.
If firework season is coming up and you’re worried about your dog’s anxiety, try to practise some calming exercises for yourself in advance. Whether it’s meditation, or listening to your favourite type of music. Anything you can do to help keep yourself calm and relaxed will make the process of supporting your dog’s anxiety much easier.
So, now you’ve got methods to keep yourself calm. Here are some different ways to help your dog feel safe during firework season too.
First step: Diet!
Diet plays a huge role in all aspects of your dog’s wellbeing. A diet that’s high in unnecessary carbs, fillers and preservatives will contribute to hyperactivity in your dog. A hyperactive and on-edge dog will be more difficult to keep calm during fireworks, especially if they’re already reactive to noise.
Ensuring your dog is fed a natural, nutritious diet should be the first step in your plan to help their noise anxiety. A food that’s free from fillers, bulking agents and preservatives will ensure they’re being nourished from the inside. Not only this, but it will also help boost their immune system and balance their hormones and energy levels. This in turn will contribute to a relaxed state of mind. A relaxed dog is a happy dog!
Use of White Noise and Music
Playing white noise or classical music can help drown out the loud sounds of fireworks. If your dog isn’t used to loud noises and is frightened of them, this could be a good starting point.
Calming music is often comforting to dogs. I would recommend playing it before a firework display is due to occur, so that your dog is given the best chance of relaxing before the fireworks start.
Noise Exposure Therapy
If your dog is young, I would recommend slowly introducing them to the sound of loud noises. Repetition is key for this tip. You can start by playing firework sounds in the background, at a low level. If your dog doesn’t react, you can reward them with a healthy treat. If your dog is unsure about the firework noises, you could start with something familiar, such as the vacuum cleaner.
After a period of time, slowly increase the volume and frequency of the loud sounds so that your dog becomes used to them. It shouldn’t be long before your dog subconsciously creates a positive association with the noises. This will be hugely helpful for when real fireworks are heard nearby in the future.
If your dog’s anxiety is severe and they’re under a lot of stress, another idea is to consider using anti-anxiety solutions like pheromone products or CBD oil. I recommend consulting your vet first for advice.
These can help reduce your dog’s anxiety during firework displays. In addition, anxious dogs can benefit hugely from an anxiety wrap or a thunder jacket, which work by providing constant, gentle pressure on your dog’s torso to comfort them in stressful situations.
It could also be a good idea to take your dog to the vet for help. Sometimes, vets might prescribe anti-anxiety medication or mild sedatives which can help prevent severe reactions to fireworks and other sound-related stress triggers.
Distraction and comfort
Offer your dog their favourite toys and healthy, tasty treats (in moderation) to distract them from loud fireworks. Giving them something to gnaw on such as a chew toy or carrot can also help soothe their anxiety. It’s also a good idea to close all of the curtains in the house to help shield your dog from bright flashing lights.
Additionally, you could smear organic peanut butter on a LickiMat to occupy them. If your dog responds well to distraction techniques, you could take the opportunity to use the time as a training session, by rewarding your dog when they don’t react to the loud noise of fireworks.
Another way to help your dog feel comfortable is to create a safe place for them. This could resemble a crate covered with a blanket, or a dog bed in a cosy corner. Try to concentrate on where your dog chooses to go when they’re scared, and focus on creating a cosy safe space in those areas.
“Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen” – Orhan Pamuk
In summary, helping your dog cope with firework anxiety is not an easy task, but it is necessary for the wellbeing of both yourself and them. By providing a healthy, balanced diet, creating a safe place, or adding some background noise or calming music, you’re providing a better chance for your dog to keep calm when fireworks are used nearby.
My best advice as a dog owner is that if you can help your dog build positive associations with loud sounds from a young age, it can really improve how they handle them in the future. That said, if your dog is really struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional dog trainer for some extra help.
Thanks so much for reading, I hope you’ve found this blog useful! As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences so please don’t hesitate to contact me at email@example.com.