Fireworks night is fast approaching, and for some people that means one thing – trying to keep an anxious pet calm and stress-free. Some dogs hate the loud bangs and flashing lights associated with fireworks, and it can lead to symptoms of extreme anxiety including barking, shaking, hiding, panicking, and uncontrollable urination.
Fireworks night shouldn’t be a night to fear for either you or your pet. There’s no need for expensive drugs to calm your dog down – follow our training advice to keep your pup happy and worry-free (note – this is a great training tool to use for other fear-inducing noises, like hoovers and hair dryers).
Firstly, there are a few things you can do that are short-term solutions.
Build a Den
All dogs need a “safe space” of their own to go to when they need some time to themselves. If you have been crate training your dog since puppyhood, their crate will be their safe space; if your dog doesn’t have a crate, it’s a good idea to build a fort-type surrounding around their bed so they feel enclosed and safe. Do this a few days before fireworks night so they get used to it; it should provide them with a calm, safe area for them to go if they get scared.
When a dog is scared, they will likely go to their owner for comfort. You need to stay calm yourself and be supportive when they show anxiety. If you yourself are scared of fireworks, your dog will pick up on your emotions.
It’s important you do not accidentally praise their fearful reaction to fireworks – instead, praise any calm moments by offering treats or fuss, and be reassuring using calming, soothing tones when they show fear.
DO NOT shout at a dog who is showcasing signs of fear or stress – you will only make it worse.
Try distracting your dog with chews and toys. If you offer a tasty raw bone before the fireworks go off, they will come to associate the loud bangs with a tasty treat. Do not give treats or toys when your dog is showing fear – you will be unintentionally rewarding their fear, which could make them worse.
While short-term coping mechanisms have their place, it’s important you look at this from a long-term point of view. Short-term solutions will only go so far – the underlying issue (their fear) is still present. The best way to decrease stress & anxiety in a worried pup is to remove their fear – and the best way to do that is with some clever training.
It is best to start desensitisation training as early as possible so your dog is used to noises such as hoovers, hair dryers and – of course – fireworks. Training should start as soon as they are born, so they are unfazed later in life by these sounds. An older dog can still be desensitised; you just have to be more patient.
There are CD’s on the market that have loud noises on them. Start by putting the CD on very low, and playing with your dog. If they show signs of worry, comfort them. As soon as they begin to ignore the sound, reward them with a treat, toy or fuss – whichever your dog loves most. Try leaving the CD on for 5 minutes at a time initially. When your dog is used to that and ignores the CD completely, gradually leave it on for longer periods.
Once your dog is used to the CD on a low volume, slowly begin to turn it up. Desensitisation should take place over several weeks, and it’s important not to rush it.
Always use positive reinforcement and praise when they behave in a favourable way (in this case, being calm). With a bit of time and some patience, your dog will soon get over their fear of loud noises.