As the excitement of firework night draws near and the thrill of whizzy Catherine wheels and sparklers excites both children and adults alike, those of us with dogs can only worry about our beloved pooches and how it will affect them. In days gone by, you would have had only one night to worry about; sadly, people now celebrate for weeks before and after, potentially causing our canine pals a lot of misery.
While some canines are cool with the noises that firework night brings, most do not realise where the loud bangs and fizzes are coming from and they really do suffer. A dog’s natural instinct is to escape from potential danger – this can mean squeezing through very slightly open doors and windows, crossing roads and jumping over high fences and onto buildings, so keep an extra watchful eye over them. We bring you the best ways to make this time of year easier for you and your furry family.
Preparation is key
Can I get my dog used to the noise of fireworks?
It is wise to start planning for the onslaught of fireworks and bonfires well in advance. As the celebrations can spread over several weeks, rather than trying to shield your dog against the noise for one night, it is better to see if there is any way you can try to desensitise your dog to lessen the impact.
There are CDs and apps available that aim to reduce the fear of certain sounds by gently getting the dog used to them over time. This works with some dogs who are afraid of fireworks and other noises such as thunder, but others are not so keen – be led by your dog’s behaviour on this as you don’t want to make them worse. There is plenty of information on how to do this responsibly and if your dog has a real noise phobia, a qualified behaviourist should be consulted before the desensitisation process can begin.
Is it true dogs should have a cosy den to feel safe?
All dogs need somewhere that they can retreat to when they need space but it is essential around this time of year. Make sure that any space is set up weeks before so that your dog sees it as a place of security and reassurance and not a sudden unwelcome addition on the night!
A good example is to have a covered crate in the corner of the room that your dog can retreat to - fill it with things that your dog feels comfortable with such as favourite blankets and toys. A dog will feel equally as safe under a bed, under a sofa, with another canine or in your arms – each animal is different and may react in a different way. Just make sure that wherever your dog finds safety, it is free from any sharp objects or hazards.
Is there any medication that may help my dog?
Over the last few years, there have been various additions to the market aimed at calming nervous dogs when fireworks are about. There are pheromone based products and natural calming products – check with your vet in advance as most products need to be started some time before a large event. Stronger prescription medications can be given on the night to reduce anxiety for dogs who really struggle – talk to your vet about whether this is the best option for your pet. As always, do not give any human medication to your dog without prior consultation with your vet.
Newer to the market are jackets and shirts which wrap around the body of your dog, using gentle constant pressure or acupressure, giving a feeling of safety. Some dogs respond to these products after one wear but others need to start earlier to show a change in behaviour so it may be worth starting this in advance.
Is there anything else I can do to prepare?
Make sure that your dog’s microchip information is up to date just in case they do escape. Hopefully, you will have put precautions into place so that this can’t happen but dogs will sometimes do anything to escape when frightened so be prepared. Make sure that your dog has its collar and ID tag on just in case.
On the day
How should we do things on the night?
This is difficult to do over a period of several weeks but on firework night and other days where there may be organised and private parties, draw your curtains and shut all doors and windows. Also shut cat flaps as dogs have been known to escape through these too! Make sure that children know not to open outside doors as they will not realise how agile their normally placid pooch can be when frightened.
Don't leave dogs on their own on firework night – they will need you for reassurance and if they do get themselves into a situation, they will need you to get them out of it! Put the TV or radio on and keep everything otherwise as normal as possible. Be sure to keep your dog’s water bowl full as anxious dogs may drink more than normal.
Can we walk our dog in the evening?
We suggest taking your dog out for a nice long walk earlier in the day if possible. As your dog may be too scared to go into the garden later on, you may find that they have a little accident in the house – don’t shout or scold, just clean it up and make no more reference to it.
How can I make my dog feel better?
Try to remain as calm as possible around your pet – they look to you for guidance so if you are getting on with things as normal, it will give the impression that nothing is wrong. If you are stressed and constantly checking them to see that they are okay, they will pick that up and think that there is reason to be scared. You need to be a reassuring presence but try not to over-fuss. Dogs will often find comfort with each other so make sure that they are not separated at this time if possible.
Tell children to also leave scared dogs alone unless the dog comes to them for reassurance. Remember that when dogs are scared, they may show behaviour that is out of character so also explain to children that they shouldn’t try to coax a dog out from its safe place. Most healthy pets will come through this however scared they are – problems tend to occur because of dogs hurting themselves whilst trying to escape – however, do look out for signs of extreme stress in sick or older dogs and call your vet if you are worried.
We hope that these tips help to keep your dog safe this firework season and all throughout the autumn!
If you're looking for more ways to help your dog relax, take a look at our guide to how to calm down your dog.