Dogs and fireworks – calming an anxious dog

Dogs and Fireworks - Calming an anxious dogMany dogs are afraid of fireworks. Whether it’s the British tradition of Bonfire night or the fourth of July in the USA, dogs, and fireworks rarely go together.

In fact, it’s estimated that just under half of all dogs are fearful of loud noises. While it’s possible to minimize trigger noises within our own homes, it’s unlikely that we can entirely protect our dogs from scary sounds.

Unfortunately, if a dog is noise aversive (scared of loud sounds), their fear is unlikely to be limited to just fireworks. For anxious dogs, any loud or unusual noise can trigger their fear. Anything from construction work, thunder, parties, or even traffic noise can be scary to a dog that is vulnerable to noise.

Why are dogs scared of fireworks?

Although distressing to witness, a dog’s fear of loud noises is perfectly natural. As a normal part of their survival instincts, a loud noise triggers a dog’s nervous system, and they react as they would to a real threat.

Typically, this involves running away or hiding until the threat is over. Unfortunately, this response in a dog with noise aversion is exaggerated and much more persistent, with the effects lasting longer even after the danger has passed.

Dogs and Fireworks – Symptoms of noise aversion

Noise aversion varies from dog to dog, while some dogs may tuck their tails between their legs and hide behind the sofa. Other dogs will show behaviors that most closely resemble a panic attack.

Here are a few signs to look out for;

  • Refusing to eat
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Pacing
  • Clingy or seeking attention
  • Cowering or hiding
  • Panting
  • Soiling the house
  • Trying to escape
  • Barking, howling, or whining

Even if your dog does display some or all of the above symptoms, don’t despair. You can do lots of things to make your dog more comfortable and feel safe through the firework celebrations.

How to help dogs who are scared of fireworks

With a bit of planning, both you and your dog will be able to cope more easily with the loud and unexpected noises of the night.

So let’s have a look at what you can do to help keep your dog calm.

Stay Indoors

Walk your dog early so that they are safely tucked away in the house before the fireworks begin. A scared dog is a danger to both themselves and others. Making sure your dog’s collar or harness and leash are secure. Also, check that your dog has an up-to-date ID tag on it just in case they run away.

Once in the house, close the windows and curtains and put on some music or TV to muffle the sound of the fireworks.

For anxious dogs that like to hide, give your dog a quiet, secure den in which to hide. Whether it’s an existing crate, an old blanket draped over a couple of chairs, or a duvet in a cupboard, your dog will appreciate a place where they feel secure.

Unless necessary, don’t leave your dog alone. Just like us, things are much less scary when you have company.

Don’t be afraid to comfort your dog.

A stressed or scared dog often turns to its humans for comfort. Please don’t ignore them. You can’t make your dog’s anxiety worse by stroking or soothing it.

However, try to stay calm. Dog’s pick up on our emotions, so the more relaxed you are, the more it could help your dog.

Distraction

Food is a powerful means of distraction. While it may not work for all dogs, it’s well worth the effort in trying.

There are two main ways that food can be used to help your dog during fireworks. The first is to use an interactive feeder, like a Kong.

Fill the Kong and freeze it and offer it to your dog just before the fireworks start. Our dog’s innate desire to work for their food often means that interactive feeders are a naturally enriching experience. Not only that but the action of licking and chewing releases endorphins in our dog’s brain, creating calming feelings of pleasure and comfort.

The second way to use food as a distraction is to feed your dog small and tasty treats throughout the fireworks. This is classic counter-conditioning, pairing something pleasurable – the food with something scary -the fireworks.

The idea is that eventually, the noise that fireworks produce is so strongly associated with a tasty treat that changes the way your dog feels about the sound.  And as a result, in the future, the sound becomes something that generates a positive response instead of fear.

Both these methods rely on delicious treats, so stock up on your dog’s favorite food.

Medication

While it’s often used as a last resort, Veterinarian prescribed medication is an option for dogs afraid of fireworks. These tend to be sedative-based and take the edge off your dog’s fear. The earlier you talk to your vet, the better, as some medications take up to a week to become effective.

Natural alternatives

There are also various types of natural options available. These range from Pheromone-based possibilities to pressure vests.

Pheromones

Pheromone-based products like Adaptil mimic natural chemicals produced by animals. These behavior-changing substances can alter how your dog feels or acts and can work well to reduce your dog’s fear or anxiety.

Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone-based alternative that is most often used to help promote and regulate sleep. However, because melatonin has sedative properties, it can also keep your dog calm and is commonly used for dogs suffering from anxiety. It’s readily available as an over-the-counter supplement for dogs and is often offered as an alternative to tranquilizers.

Anti-anxiety jackets and wraps

These wraps jackets are entirely safe and provide constant, gentle pressure around your dog’s midsection. The pressure helps your dog feel more secure, a bit like swaddling a baby, and can help reduce stress caused by the sound of fireworks.

Sound therapy

Using soothing sounds to counteract the distressing sounds of the fireworks is a good option and perfect for sensitive dogs. Clinically researched Through a dog's ear, has been designed to reduce a dog’s anxiety.

Ideally, play the CD in the week before the fireworks begin when your dog is already feeling relaxed and calm so that your dog starts to associate the sounds with being in a restful state. Play it again a couple of hours before the fireworks start and throughout the night until the fireworks stop.

Sound therapy can be combined with the distraction technique of providing treats or an interactive feeder and works well.

What to do with dogs scared of fireworks

Look after your dog when it’s struggling with the noise of fireworks. Distract them, soothe them and provide a safe place for them to hide if they need one.

Although not every dog will respond to these techniques, it’s worth experimenting with. Sometimes a combination of tools is the most effective, and anything you can do to help reduce your dog’s fearful behavior is progress.

Thankfully, fireworks are usually confined to a few nights of the year, so it’s easy to be prepared. With a bit of planning, you can create a calming space for your anxious dog so you both can have a safe and relaxing night even with all the noises outside.

Last update on 2021-05-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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