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Dog Behaviour

Helping fearful dogs through fireworks

As we are facing another lockdown and there may be more frequent smaller fireworks from people at home.  So it is helpful to tackle the issue of fireworks and Dogs today!

Just a quick note this information can also help with Dogs who struggle with thunderstorms too!

Let us start with thoughts about why some dogs struggle and others don’t. My current dogs don’t mind and yet I have had dogs that shook, collapsed, wet and defecated and ran for cover at the first hint of a storm, fireworks, gunshot and crow scarers.

Current thinking suggests that the loud bangs and screeches of fireworks are ‘alert sounds’ to the dog, suggesting danger hence why many dogs run and hide. However, the difficulty for the dogs is knowing where the sound/danger is coming from.

Since the dog cannot interpret where the perceived threat is coming from, they cannot retreat successfully knowing they are no longer in danger.

The flight response state they are in when the bang goes off is not successful as they don’t know where the danger is to run from it, so being in the heightened state and remaining in fear can result in collapse and shaking.

So what can we do to help our dogs manage fireworks, storms and gunshot?

The first difficulty with training solutions is that these events are few and far between, in England are storm season tends to be in mid-summer, fireworks in November and January so these small window events do not happen regularly enough for dogs to become accustomed to them.

Desensitising

We can try to desensitise our dogs to loud noises, fireworks etc. The process begins by playing firework sounds quietly at home whilst feeding lovely treats and playing with the dog.

Gradually over days and weeks you increase the volume, so the dog develops tolerance. I have had mixed results with this approach.

Certainly I do undertake this practice with new puppies in my home.  Part of this is to make unexpected loud noises, play loud sounds on my iPad and generally bang and crash about to get the puppy used to loud noises. I also pay particular attention to socialising my pups as soon as possible to a large variety of environments, both busy and quiet and if there happens to be a storm or fireworks on I take my puppy outside in my arms to watch it!

However, I do think that some of the responses to loud noises we see is nature and not nurture. Despite our best efforts to help our dogs deal with the modern world some dogs will suffer miserably during fireworks and storms.

I would be cautious about desensitising a dog using recorded sounds if the dog had an extreme reaction.

If the dogs fear response is heightened, then playing repeated sounds could just be repeatedly be placing your dog in a fear/flight state. My approach in these sever cases would be to focus on management of the situation.

So how do we manage to get our fearful dogs through fireworks night?

Prepare in advance.
  1. If you know there is an organised display or a storm is predicted get ready before it happens. Utilise calming remedies such as Adaptil plugins in the house and place a collar Adaptil collar on you dogs a few weeks before or speak to you vet about remedies and medication that may help.
  2. Be brave and politely ask neighbours if anyone is planning fireworks so you are aware.
  3. Arrange a den or ‘safe place’ for your dog to get them used to going in it. Use lots or treats and place favourite toys etc in it so they become happy to settle there.
Actions on the day.
  1. Take you dog out for a long, active walk.  Next do brain training so your dog tires from the day’s activities.
  2. Bring mealtime forward.  That way your dog isn’t having their tea and then being asked to go out for poos and pees when the fireworks are going off. Feed early and take them out to eliminate when it is still quiet.
  3. Close all the curtains and blinds, put radios and the television on quite loud to diffuse the outside noise.
  4. Build a den, or safe place for your dog to retreat too.  Settle them in the room you are in so you can be with them and reassure them.  Hopefully you will have already prepared this a few days/weeks before.
  5. Put a compression or ‘thunder vest’ on your dog. Some dogs find tight fitting garments calming – it’s worth a try!
  6. Have tasty distractions for your dog whilst the fireworks are going off. A stuffed Kong may help to refocus your dog or food puzzle games.
  7. Reassure your dog and remain calm yourself. Its not pleasant seeing your dog upset but try to stay calm for them.

I hope this has helped in some small way.  If you have further ideas or can offer suggestions about things that have helped your dogs please post up.

Lizz x

Photo by Nicolas Tissot on Unsplash