Navigating fireworks season with your dog
พฤศจิกายน 1, 2021
Protect your little firecracker
It’s the night that so many dog lovers loathe, and for good reason: studies show that 45% of dogs display some kind of fear or distress come fireworks night.
So, how can we protect our furry firecrackers from the festivities?
“Remember remember, the 5th of November! Sadly, it’s not something dog lovers can easily forget.”
Understanding the science behind the fear
As you’ll know by now, routine is a dog’s best friend: the more confidently they know what to expect, the calmer and happier they’ll be.
Fireworks, then, are the complete opposite of what we try to achieve for our dogs: not only are they loud and unfamiliar, but they’re incredibly unpredictable. The varying lengths of time between each individual “bang!” and each local display (which often take place over several nights) means that our dogs’ senses are constantly aroused, without time to fully “recover” or settle.
Setting them up for success
The best way to tackle Fireworks Night is to get a head start as soon as possible. This might mean training your dog from the day you adopt them, or starting several months before the big night.
Gradually desensitising your dog to loud noises and high-pitched sounds, over a period of time, will build up their familiarity. To do this, we recommend a specifically-designed desensitisation CD that imitates the sounds of fireworks, without the actual fireworks.
- Start with the sounds they are least scared of, at the lowest possible volume and watch for your dog’s reaction: look closely, as this could be as simple as twitching their ears
- If they react in any way, leave the volume where it is for a few minutes before trying again
- Keep going several times a day, in 5 – 10 minute bursts, increasing the volume each time your dog shows no reaction
- The golden rule: If at any point your dog seems uncomfortable, it’s likely you’ve moved too quickly. Take it back to the previous volume, or simply try again tomorrow
It’s important to note that this process should be done gradually, and can sometimes take months. If you haven’t got months to spare, there are ways you can protect your little firecracker on the night:
Take your dog for a walk earlier than usual
Distract your dog with their favourite chew or enrichment puzzle
Or simply leave them to it: some dogs will prefer to snuggle up alone
On the night
It’s a good idea to have a plan of action in place ahead of fireworks season: this might involve stocking up on your dog’s favourite things; fashioning a safe space out of blankets and an empty wardrobe; or switching up your routine to make sure your dog is walked well before dark. When it comes to the 5th of November, preparation is everything!
- Walk your dog earlier than usual to avoid getting caught outside when dark
- Mask the noise by playing music or keeping the TV turned up
- Keep windows, doors, dog and cat-flaps closed. You can mask the flashes of light by closing your curtains too
- Create a safe space for your dog. Include a chew to distract them and line their space with blankets and cushions to mask the noise
- Follow your dog’s lead – they might seek comfort from you but they also might hide themselves away. Both are completely natural ways of coping!
- Never take your dog to a fireworks display
- Avoid leaving your dog at home alone: even the bravest of dogs can become fearful when left alone
Beyond fireworks night: counterconditioning
We’ve already explored the benefits of desensitising your dog to loud noises, but this can actually be taken a step further: teaching your dog to not only tolerate the sound of fireworks, but to make positive associations with it.
Counterconditioning is used to switch previously fearful associations (fireworks = scary and unpredictable) for more positive ones (fireworks = playtime with my favourite squeaky toy) and can be used on a range of stimuli: a delivery driver knocking on the door, distant gunshots if you live in the countryside, or even the oh-so-scary hoover for young puppies or new arrivals.
To start, grab the desensitisation CD you had earlier, and some of your dog’s favourite snacks or toys:
- As soon as you hear the sounds, give your dog their food or start playing with them.
- Once your dog has finished eating or playing, turn the sound off straight away
- Repeat several times a day, for as long as needed – it’s as simple as that!
Repeating these steps will help your dog learn that this sound = something positive happening. You should find that your dog starts getting excited when they hear the sound in anticipation of something fun coming their way! But, as always, remember that different dogs learn at different speeds, so take it slow and always, always be patient.
We know the fireworks season can be an arduous and heartbreaking time for dogs and dog-lovers alike. We hope these steps make the ordeal even a tiny bit easier to contend with: from all of us here at Jai Dog Rescue, stay safe x
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