Ten Ways to Reduce Fear of Fireworks in Dogs

Fireworks scare my dog. She turns into a drooling panting mess at the first bang and then works herself into a worse state as the evening progresses. Scientific reviews have shown that 49% of dogs have a fear of loud noises, such as fireworks, thunder and gunshot. Unfortunately my dog Holly is frightened of them all. Firework phobia will not improve in the vast majority of cases without intervention. So I've done a bit of research this year to get some top tips for a calm and happy dog on Bonfire Night.

1. Play firework sounds to your dog regularly. It's no good waiting until Bonfire Night if your dog is scared of fireworks. You need to start training now! Start at a very low volume for short periods of time and build up gradually, rewarding calm behaviour with treats and playing games.
The RSPCA recommend www.soundtherapy4pets.co.uk.
Interestingly, puppies born in the autumn are less likely to suffer from firework phobia, as they are more likely to have been exposed to them in their socialisation period (the first few months).
2. This is a really tricky one. Don't fuss your dog to try to comfort them if they are upset about the fireworks. Firework anxiety is reinforced in dogs by giving them attention when they are upset. The best way to help your dog is to completely ignore the fireworks. Show your dog how to behave by being calm and relaxed and ignore any behaviour from them that you don't want. Thundershirts are snug dog coats that apply gentle constant pressure to your dog and anecdotal evidence suggests that they can comfort anxious dogs without reinforcing fear. They are quite expensive so opt for one with a money back guarantee (e.g. from www.petsathome.com ) in case they don't work for your dog.
3. Create a safe quiet place for your dog to hide. Where does your dog like to go when they want to relax? Holly heads to our bedroom so we will close the curtains early and set up her dog cage with a blanket over the top to muffle the sound so that she can hide in there if she wants to. To help your dog to think of its cage or den as a happy and relaxing place, regularly give them treats and toys in it and make sure that it is available at all times leading up to Bonfire Night.
4. Distract your dog. A bit of trial and error is needed here to see what works best for your dog. Putting on the TV or radio can drown out the fireworks a bit. If your dog really enjoys a Kong toy stuffed with cooked minced beef or frozen gravy, give it to them so that they can work on it throughout the evening. Holly's breathing calms down if we run through some basic obedience commands with her before she gets too upset and reward her efforts.
5. Ignore "naughty" behaviour caused by fear. Holly is not allowed on our bed but will jump on it repeatedly during fireworks. There is no point telling her off as the behaviour is caused by fear and reprimanding her would only make her more anxious.
6. Keep your dog inside during fireworks. Make sure that your dog is microchipped and has an identity tag in case they manage to escape. To avoid accidents in the house take your dog out early for toileting and walks before the fireworks start. If Holly hears a stray firework when I am with her in the garden she rushes back to the house leaving me standing on the lawn on my own.
7. Phone a friend. If your dog enjoys the company of other dogs and you know someone who has a dog that is calm and confident during fireworks arrange a doggie sleep over. This will help to calm down the nervous dog. Staying with family or friends in the countryside can be a good option if you fancy a trip away and you live in an area where there are likely to be lots of firework displays nearby.
8. Lots of exercise. A tired dog that has had lots of exercise during the day is more likely to sleep through loud noises.
9. Use a Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) diffuser. This has been shown to work in scientific studies and is sold by vets. It replicates a substance released by nursing bitches to comfort and reassure their young and has been proven to reduce signs of fearfulness during fireworks in adult dogs. If you want to try it see www.adaptil.co.uk. Diffusers should be installed at floor level near to the dog's den or safe place at least a week before Bonfire Night. DAP has also been shown to provide a reassuring environment and reduce anxiety in dogs so that they respond better to behavioural therapy. So combine it with your Scary Sounds CD and your dog's favourite treats for maximum results!
10. Sedating your dog is a last resort if you have tried everything else or run out of training time for this year and you feel that your dog will really suffer on Bonfire Night. Speak to your vet for advice.
I hope that some of these suggestions are helpful to you and your dog. If you have any good ideas to help dogs cope with fireworks it would be great to hear from you. Holly will never be a fan of Bonfire Night but I'm hoping that with a bit of effort from me she will be less stressed this year...

Louise Dolan
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