Firework Display

How to calm your dog during fireworks

How to calm your dog during fireworks

Throughout the year, there are peak times when we’re confronted with the challenge of fireworks. These occasions often coincide with celebrations or events such as Bonfire Night and New Year’s Eve (as well as 4th July in the US). During these periods, many dog owners are acutely aware of the distress their pets may experience and, surprisingly, more dogs tend to go missing during these peak times than at any other time of the year. In this post, I delve into the reasons behind this and provide timeless advice on soothing your dog during fireworks.

Making sense of the science

It’s no surprise our four-legged companions find fireworks so daunting. Dogs possess remarkable hearing abilities, picking up noises four times the distance and at much higher frequencies than humans. Simply put, if fireworks are going off in your area and they’re driving you crazy, consider how loud and stressful they must be for your pet.

What you may not know is your dog might also be reacting to the scent of gunpowder. Think about it – our furry friends boast a staggering 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses in comparison to the mere six million in humans.

Kobi was always unfazed by loud noises. He would calmly carry on his day regardless of the explosive bangs from fireworks or the crackling of a thunderstorm. We adopted him at the age of three, so we missed out on observing his early experiences. Yet, having lived in places like Dubai and Oman, where fireworks are a regular feature of celebrations, we speculate if he simply learned to tune them out.

Unfortunately, for many other dogs, this time of year spells immense stress and anxiety.

Worried Spaniel
Bonfire Night

Dog-centred care and professional advice

I once had the opportunity to listen to an enlightening conversation between the remarkable Andrew Hale and Toni Shelbourne, an accredited animal behaviorist, Tellington TTouch® instructor, Real Dog Yoga instructor, and author. Both experts are deeply committed to dog-centered care.

They delved into the reasons behind why dogs fear fireworks, outlined symptoms to watch out for, and offered practical tips to comfort dogs during this stressful period.

If your pup struggles with the frequent loud bangs, especially during the autumn months, I highly recommend Toni’s book, “Help! My Dog is Scared of Fireworks.” Ensure you purchase the updated edition, released on August 8, 2018, which incorporates the latest scientific research.

What factors should you consider if your dog is scared of fireworks?

While Andrew and Toni’s advice is offered from a general perspective, it’s important to remember that dogs are unique. What works for one may not work for another. Like humans, each individual — whether human or canine — has its own needs and responses. Just as different approaches and solutions resonate with different people, dogs also require tailored care based on their individual traits, backgrounds, and experiences.

Several factors influence a dog’s fearful state, encompassing their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Examples include neurological development, physical pain, age, and background history, which should all be considered. For instance, rescue dogs may carry trauma or fears stemming from past experiences.

The emphasis Andrew and Toni placed on recognising each dog’s individual needs deeply resonates with me and aligns with my ethical beliefs. Society often imposes standards of acceptable behavior on dogs, whereas in reality, our pets are merely attempting to communicate with us. Understanding a dog’s behavior involves interpreting their emotional experiences. While we may seek quick fixes or aim to alter their behavior to align with our expectations, a more constructive approach involves listening to our dogs, observing their body language, and comprehending their needs. With dedication and the right focus, we can strive for a mutually beneficial outcome.

So what symptoms should you be looking for?

The following list is not exhaustive, and I must stress that your pet’s behavior may fluctuate based on various factors. Nonetheless, the following behavioral patterns can indicate that your dog might be experiencing anxiety during firework season:

Preparation is key to a successful outcome

One of the most crucial steps you can take to support your dog through their fear is to plan ahead. It’s ineffective to wait until an event, such as Bonfire Night, to help your dog when they’re already cowering, continuously barking, or seeking refuge under furniture. If you’re looking for ways to calm your dog during fireworks, start by assessing your dog’s typical behavior throughout the year. This will provide insight into what is considered normal under various circumstances. Keeping a diary can be helpful in this regard.

How to calm your dog during fireworks

Witnessing our furry companions in distress by loud noises and unfamiliar scents during events like fireworks can be heartbreaking. Fortunately, there are proactive steps we can take to help them cope and feel more at ease.

Anxious Dog

Below, I’ve compiled a list of practical strategies to support your dog during these challenging times. From learning calming techniques to adjusting routines and communicating with neighbours, these suggestions aim to provide comfort and relief to your beloved pet:

  • Learn Tellington TTouch® every day.
  • Learn to body wrap every day.
  • Play white noise — this plays random sounds at all frequencies and works by, not only masking other sounds, but desensitises your pet so they don’t react to sudden and abrupt noises.
  • Avoid trigger stacking — cancel other triggers that could cause stress for your dog in the lead up to and after the event, e.g. a grooming appointment or visitors to your home.
  • Ask your neighbours if they have any firework displays planned at home. You can explain that you just want to make a note of the dates as your dog gets nervous so you want to make sure you’re at home that night.
  • Change your routines; for example, move the water bowl closer to your pet so they don’t have to leave their ‘safe place’ to have a drink, or get up extra early the following morning to let your dog out for a pee instead of forcing them out on the night into an environment that they find, quite frankly, terrifying.
  • Buy a Pet Remedy product.
  • Get a behavioural diary to help you monitor their progress over time.
  • Buy the book ‘Help! My Dog is Scared of Fireworks’ by Toni Shelbourne.

Recovering from fear

It’s important to note that even small changes can signify progress for your dog’s well-being. It’s unrealistic to expect an overnight solution to your dog’s fear, but by implementing strategies to build resilience, you can gradually reduce their anxiety.

Remember, visible signs of calmness may not manifest immediately, but that doesn’t mean progress isn’t happening. Keeping a record of your observations is invaluable. By comparing your dog’s behavior before and after implementing coping strategies, you may realise that, actually, they are coping better during unexpected firework displays than before.

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