Fireworks can be fun for humans, but for many dogs across Norfolk and beyond, they can be a strange, unsettling, even terrifying experience. And with most large New Year Celebrations cancelled this year, we’re expecting more back yard fire displays than ever. So how can you help your dog to stay calm during fireworks?
And whilst we understand that everyone has the right to enjoy themselves and celebrate the New Year in their own way (especially THIS year). It cannot be avoided that back yard displays are more sporadic, often unexpected and can last over several nights as different people celebrate at different times.
For many people backyard fireworks are simply a bit of fun. For thousands of dog owners they can be an utter nightmare. Back in November our social feeds were full of stories, images and videos of distraught dogs, along with super heated pro-fireworks and anti-fireworks arguments erupting in dozens of Facebook groups.
Will New Year be the same?
First two facts… (harsh but true)
- We as dog owners need to accept that it is highly unlikely that backyard firework displays will be banned this year, or any time soon. It may not seem fair or right but that’s the way it is. We’re going to need to go through this. But we can be there to support each other.
- There will ALWAYS be two points of view on this and no matter how clear and well-argued our case is, there are some people who will NEVER get it. Ever.
So, what can we do? Well if you have a local Facebook group for your town or village perhaps start a thread where people can list the dates they are planning to have at-home firework displays, at least then you can be prepared and they are aware that there is a reactive dog nearby – if they’ve never owned a dog this thought may not have even occurred to them.
We asked local dog and puppy trainer Holley to share some expert tips with us, here’s her fireworks prep list!
Expert tips to help your dog stay calm during fireworks
First up, and this VITAL. Stay Calm. Keep yourself calm and relaxed so that your dog does not pick up on your stress.
Preparing for Fireworks – Puppies & Dogs:
- Ensure all awindows are closed.
- Close your curtains/blinds and turn on lights and TV to mask the visuals and sounds of fireworks.
- Ensure your house and garden are escape proof – some dogs will try to run away if they are scared. Ensure your dog has an ID tag just in case!
- Walk your dog before it gets dark and well before any fireworks start.
- Give your dog a comfortable ‘bolt hole’ for him to escape to. This might be a crate or even a small space that makes him feel safe, but leave the door open so he is free to come and go when he needs. Confinement can cause panic.
- Feed your dog before it gets too noisy, some dogs find it too stressful to eat when the fireworks are happening.
- If your dog is very stressed by fireworks, ask your veterinarian about temporary calming medication and give it to them just before the fireworks are due to start.
During Fireworks – Puppies & Dogs:
- Do not leave your dog alone.
- If your dog finds an area of your home where he is comfortable, like under your bed, do not pull him out. Let him go to where he feels safe and secure.
- Play calming music, look on YouTube for ‘Calming Dog’ playlists or try a calm radio station.
- Turn on a fan to mask the bangs outside but make sure that the whirring of these machines do not scare your dog even more.
- Try other methods to calm your dog such as pheromone diffusers or sprays from places like PetRemedy.
- Wrap your dog in something close fitting like an anxiety body wrap or a ‘Thundershirt’ as this might make him feel more secure.
- Do not allow your dog to go into the garden during fireworks and most definitely do not leave your dog in the garden.
- Take your dog’s mind off fireworks by giving your dog something fun to do like a frozen stuffed Kong full of all his favourite foods or a dispensing treat ball! Even playing games and doing some reward-based training!
- And most importantly, if your dog comes to you for comfort, give it to him. Some people think that if you comfort a nervous or fearful dog you will reinforce his fear, but the opposite is actually true. A calming touch or just holding your dog close will make him feel safe.
My dog is still scared, what should I do?
Speak to your vet to see if there’s an underlying health problem. If there’s not, they may be able to offer a referral to a qualified behaviourist who can help tackle your dog’s fear. Your vet will also be able to discuss whether medication might be helpful.
Behaviour therapy will vary for each dog. Treatment might focus on teaching your dog a consistent way to cope with loud noises, potentially using a den to hide when they’re worried. Or a behaviourist might recommend desensitisation and counter-conditioning treatment, which would gradually teach your dog that noises are not scary by associating them with something your dog enjoys like treats or a game.
We hope these tips help your dog to stay calm during fireworks this new year and beyond!
Holley is a family dog trainer & puppy training expert specialising in the human to dog bond and providing realistic, manageable training solutions to all dog related problems in the local NR29 areas. For further information please visit www.ruff-dogs.co.uk
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