31 Oct Firework Noises- How To Help Your Dog
It’s around this time of year that I get clients asking me how best to help their dogs cope on fireworks night.
It is completely natural for dogs to be afraid of fireworks- the loud noise and unpredictability of them triggers many dogs fight or flight response leading to the tell-tale signs of stress and anxiety owners dread each year. Most dogs will show a fearful reaction to fireworks unless properly desensitised in their critical period between 3-16 weeks of age. Dogs show stress and fear in many different ways. Some attempt escape, digging holes and show pacing behaviour whilst others may have dilated pupils, high heart rate, sweaty paws, excessive panting, trembling and an inability to settle.
So what does proper noise desensitisation look like?
The most successful desensitisation programs begin during the first week in a dogs life. The really excellent breeders out there know this and will begin playing audios of fireworks, thunder storms and gunshots to their puppies to avoid any noise phobias in later life. Now, that is not to say that we can’t desensitise dogs in later life. At any age, conditioning a dog to feel differently about a certain stimulus (fireworks) involves finding the level of noise the dog feels comfortable with and doing something positive like playing a game or feeding treats whilst the audio is played. The first few times you do this, the sound may be so quiet that you cant even hear the fireworks but remember that your dogs hearing is much more sensitive than yours. Over time you will gradually be able to increase the volume of this audio. The speed at which you progress to higher volumes will vary from dog to dog, but the key is to watch for signs of stress from your dog before continuing.
This is an effective technique for many noise phobic dogs, but for some, no amount of gradual exposure will help them when they come to face real fireworks. In these instances, it is time to fall back on management strategies in order to ensure the dog is kept as safe and calm as possible.
The most important thing you can do is make sure that your dog is safe and secure. Exposure to loud noises is the number one reason dogs escape homes and run away- check your garden and home is secure, check your dog is appropriately tagged.
To help your dog in the home, I’ve found the best thing you can do is provide a safe space- some type of ‘bolt hole’. This should be an area the dog can escape to, and is usually where the dog sleeps. Make sure the room is filled with artificial lighting so as to minimise the contrast of the bright fireworks in a dark room. Play loud classical music to lessen the abruptness of firework noises outside. I like to use lavender incense or essential oils in the room too.
It is a common misconception that you should ignore a dog that is scared in order to avoid reinforcing the behaviour. You simply cannot reinforce an emotional state of distress, you can only reinforce behaviour. You will in no way worsen your dogs experience by being present as long as you stay calm yourself. Use long, slow words when speaking (‘ Gooooooooood booooooooooy’) and keep yourself in check no matter how stressed your dog gets- you are the emotional leader here.
Other things that I’ve seen help some dogs are: thunder shirts, t touch therapy, massage, Adaptil (or similar products) and in the most severe cases, medication. Medication can be a great tool for dogs that get particularly distressed but its important to pair this with behavioural therapy too. If your unsure of whether your dog needs medical attention or behavioural therapy get in touch with your ve,t or a reputable behaviourist who can help