8 Top Tips to Reduce Dog Anxiety on Fireworks Night
Misty autumn mornings, the damp smell in the air, and the rustle of leaves underpaw…all herald the arrival of fireworks season. There can’t be many dog owners who appreciate the loud noises and flashes of light that accompany a fireworks display, as it is likely to freak out your four-legged friend.
Here are the 8 top tips to help your dog reduce the stress of fireworks night:
- Change your routine
- Create a safe haven
- Play music
- Chewing as therapy
- Herbal remedies and nutraceuticals
- Licensed treatments
- Desensitisation techniques
Whether it’s Fireworks Night, New Year’s Eve, or any other time of year when firework displays are common, if your dog is distressed by the sound of fireworks, pet owners can reduce their distress with the following tips.
1. Change your Routine
Fireworks happen after dark: Obvious really, or people wouldn’t be able to appreciate the colour and flashes of light. OK, so it is difficult to avoid walking in the dark, but you can shake up your routine and walk early in the evening before the fireworks start.
Giving the dog plenty of exercise is important. Burning off excess energy with a long walk means they’re more likely to settle down to a deep sleep when they get in. However, its also a good idea to check the dog’s microchip is working and their ID tag is up-to-date… just in case of an unexpected loud noise which causes them to bolt and runoff.
Then during firework season, you are safely hunkered down at home in a safe place, before the worst of the noise starts. For maximum benefit, follow the tips below to muffle the sound and provide a safe hiding place.
2. Create a Safe Haven
A dog’s natural response to fear is either to hide from what frightens them. This is an important coping strategy and you can help your pet to cope when you provide a safe hiding place. For example, a thick blanket draped over their crate or kennel helps to make it more den-like and muffles the sounds of fireworks.
Make that hidey-hole feel even safer by lining it with a T-shirt that has your scent on it. Go a step further and spritz it with Adaptil or Dog Appeasing Pheromone. This is a synthetic pheromone that gives the dog a scent message that they are safe and secure, much like the one given off by a nursing mother dog. Adaptil comes as a collar (so the dog carries the comforting smell where ever they go), a spray (to spritz their bed) or a diffuser (to make the room a safe haven). One other simple action that can help is to close the curtains because this will hide the flashes of light.
3. Play Music
Sound therapy is very much a ‘thing’ with some enlightened vet clinics playing certain types of music to calm their patients. You can utilise the same benefits at home when you have the right music to play.
If you’d like to know where you can get the best sound therapy that is proven to soothe your dog, learn more here.
Have you ever felt upset, then someone gave you a great big hug when things didn’t seem so bad?
Well, this is the idea behind an anxiety wrap such as the Thundershirt. This is a snug-fitting jacket that presses against the dog’s flanks, giving them a subliminal message that they are safe in someone’s arms. For some dogs, this works really well, and it can be a simple, no-drug solution to keep a dog calm.
5. Chewing as Therapy
Believe it or not, chewing is another coping mechanism. Chewing makes a dog feel good, which is why they destroy slippers (a double whammy of chewing something that smells of the person they love.)
In addition to a safe haven and calm environment, provide the dog with a favourite chewstick or toy as a distraction. Tuck them up inside their den, play soothing music, and give them a chew on which to take out their anxiety.
6. Herbal Remedies and Nutraceuticals
For that little extra help, some pet owners swear by herbal remedies such as Skullcap and Valerian. This is best given twice daily over the whole of the firework season for maximum benefit.
Another non-drug remedy is Zylkene. This is a food supplement (not a pharmaceutical) which acts on the same brain receptors as Valium. It has a naturally calming effect and can make a big difference to some dogs. Again, give twice daily for the entirety of the firework season.
7. Licensed Treatments
Some dogs are so desperately fearful of the sound of fireworks that they are in danger of self-harm or injury. If this is the case, speak to your vet. There is a prescription product, Sileo, which is licensed to treat noise phobia in dogs.
This is a medicated gel that is syringed into the dog’s cheek. It has a mild tranquilising effect and switches off the part of the brain triggered by loud bangs and flashes.
8. Desensitisation techniques
Desensitisation is the gold standard, as preferred by animal behaviourists. However, this one takes some planning as you need to start months ahead of bonfire night. The idea is to expose the dog to the sound of fireworks but at such a low volume that the dog doesn’t react. You leave this playing in the background and praise the dog for their calm behaviour.
Once the dog is completely comfortable with the low-level white noise, you fractionally increase the volume. Again, act normally around the dog and praise how clever they are to stay calm. Over weeks and months incrementally turn up the volume until the dog can tolerate the actual sound of fireworks without getting riled.
However, whilst this is a great idea some dogs are too deeply traumatised for this to form the only solution, and you will need to use other strategies in addition.
What NOT to Do
Never force your dog to face their fears. The idea of desensitisation by ‘flooding’ is inhumane and only traumatises the dog. This ill-informed method of treating firework phobia means deliberately taking the dog for a long walk during a firework display. The idea is that it shocks the dog into accepting the noise.
However, qualified behaviourists abhor this as cause extreme distress and anxiety, which only heightens the dog’s anxiety in future.
Another mistake is to confine a dog terrified by the sound of fireworks inside a crate. Deprived of the ability to flee, they are liable to show extreme signs of fear and injure themselves in a desperate attempt to escape. Instead, offer the dog access to a crate but don’t close them inside.
Bizarrely, although it is human nature to comfort a terrified pet, dog owners should avoid doing this. The unintended consequence of fussing a frightened four-legger is that it rewards their fear, and can make such behaviour more likely rather than reassuring the dog.
If you are struggling with a dog that has an extreme aversion to fireworks, then seek the advice of a trained and certified animal behaviourist. Although the top tips above will help, these dogs need serious support if they aren’t to live in fear of the 5th November each year!
Have you got any of your own tips to keep your dog relaxed on firework night? We’d love to hear your advice in the comments below!