It’s that time of year again where there are lots of fireworks and they will happen in most areas in the UK pretty regularly now until the new year, possibly even into the Chinese New Year!
It can be a scary time for our dogs and a frustrating time for us as we watch our dogs suffer.
Whether barking, shaking, quivering, hiding, howling, not eating or generally unsettled - all of these things tell us that are dogs are concerned about fireworks.
We need to break this down into four parts;
- Sights - flashes of the fireworks whether they are in full view or the flashes of light through our curtains/blinds
- Sounds - the bangs, pops and hisses
- Smells - the smell of the smoke and burnt gunpowder that comes with the use of fireworks.
- Vibrations – if the fireworks are fairly close, over your house then your dog will be picking up on the vibrations through the house, just as much as the sounds that they create (much like with thunder).
All of the above affect our dogs’ emotions and reactions.
We are limited as to what we can do with the smells and vibrations, without having an old used firework to hand or a thunderclap to hand on command for us to work with so let’s concentrate on what we can help with and improve on with your dog!
If you have a dog that’s a recent rescue or a puppy, you may not know how they will react to fireworks. Prevention is easier than the cure so following these easy steps to help your dog be confident and settled at this time of year can only be a good thing!
Here are Sarah’s top tips (no training needed) that will help your dog settle when there are fireworks likely to be setting off are as follows -
- Shut your curtains or blinds
- Keep your lights on to dim the flashes from outside.
- Keep your dog out of your conservatory if you have one. The glass will just magnify the sound and vibrations to your dog, never mind the light/flashes of them if you don’t have a fully blinded conservatory.
- Feed them their meal earlier, in the light if possible.
- Take them out to toilet / exercise in plenty of time before it goes dark. There are some silly people who decide to let them off at dusk and many dog owners get caught out by this. If you are working and unable to take them out earlier, missing a walk would be a better option than to get caught short when you are out with them.
- Time when they need to go out into the garden to toilet around the fireworks where possible and take them out into the garden on lead. If you do time it wrong and a firework goes off, they will not be able to bolt and hide or try to escape the garden. You can reassure them and bring them back into the house instantly if you have them on lead. Even dogs with the most impressive ability to come back to you the instant you call them can ignore you when scared. Having a lead on means you are not risking this happening.
- If your dog has a crate, that they enjoy resting in, leave the door open and ensure as much as possible that they can go in there if they choose at any point while fireworks are being let off.
- If it’s not already, you may want to cover the crate with a blanket or towel leaving the just the door part uncovered, making them their own little safe haven or cave.
- If your dog is not crate trained then put a blanket across two arms on a sitting room chairs or from the sofa to a nearby side table and place their bed under, again making a cave for them should they choose.
- Have music or the TV on loud, almost drowning out the bangs.
- If you have a dog that will normally pace and or bark at fireworks, then shut the doors and enclose them to the room where you will be. The more they get to pace and bark the more stressed they will become. Lessening the area, they are getting to practice this will help.
Things for you to do in preparation for fireworks season to lessen your dog’s fear, or start to prevent a fear of fireworks developing;
- Play sounds of fireworks on YouTube (or similar) and or through the ‘soundproof puppy app’ on a low volume at every feed time, play time, relaxing together time, anything that your dog enjoys – play sounds on a very low volume. Fireworks sounds equal fun is what we are aiming to teach your dog. With practice and time slowly increase the volume – but do not rush this, especially if you know your dog is fearful. If your dog shows any signs of being concerned at the noise you have gone too fast (too loud), reduce the volume greatly and build up again from there… slower this time.
- Have disco lights, Christmas twinkling lights of different colours or similar behind the curtains or blinds randomly and regularly, so there are small flashes of different colours peeking through… at times that you are NOT playing the sounds.
- Once you have reached maximum volume of the sounds with your dog and your dog isn’t bothered by them, then combine this with the lights behind curtains/blinds.
- Teach a reliable and relaxing settle in a safe place. This maybe on their bed, the sofa or in their crate - wherever they enjoy relaxing normally. Make this more reliable by giving them random treats and rewards when you see them there, give them a stuffed and frozen Kong or a chew (the long-lasting chew in this month’s box would be a great start).
- If you allow your dog to join you on the sofa, practice some slow and gentle massage, long slow strokes down their sides, small slow circular movements with light pressure on their chest and under their chin. Do this for 5 seconds each time then stop, if your dog leans into you or turns to look at you that’s your signal that they want more. Stop regularly o see if they want more. If they don’t then stop and just relax with them. Avoid touching the top of their head as this is rude in the canine world. Down their sides, under their chin and chest are the best places for this. Maybe refrain from belly rubs or stroking for the time being as this isn’t always appreciated as much as we may think.
‘You can’t reassure your dog when they are scared as you will be reinforcing their fear and make them worse’
What a load of rubbish! It’s now been proven, by science that this is impossible! Talking to your dog in a calm soothing tone to reassure them will do exactly that, it certainly won’t make them worse. If anything, it will help them! Soothing, confident tones being the most beneficial.