When it comes to fireworks, who doesn't love a good firework show? However, it is not the same for animals. When it comes to fireworks some dogs just cannot control themselves through their pure terror.
For dogs it is that unpredictable and extremely loud sound that triggers their fight or flight response. This is why some dogs will try and hide in the smallest of spaces to try and feel safe, whilst other dogs just need to run and escape.
Unfortunately, we don't always have the luxury of knowing when fireworks are going to happen, except for the obvious.... New Years Eve. When you do know that fireworks are going to happen there are steps you can take to make your dog feel safer, and obviously if you have a "bolter", keep them inside and safe.
This Saturday Good Shepherd has their school fete on, and they have advertised fireworks. For my dog Phoenix this will be a very anxious and stressful time, and I am sure he won't be the only dog feeling that way. Lucky for me Phoenix's instinct is to hide. Although before I adopted him he was renowned for clearing six foot fences and running wild. Thankfully since I have adopted him, he hasn't once tried to escape, but it is something I am always mindful of. If a dog is that terrified, and fears for their life that flight instinct can kick in, as they feel it is their only way of surviving.
Ways to prepare your dog for fireworks
Adaptil- there is a number of different versions you can purchase such as the plug in wall diffusers, collars, and now spray which you can use on their bedding etc. I currently use two wall diffusers in my house at either end. So how does adaptil work you ask? Well it Pheromone based product. They have created a synthetic copy of the pheromone a puppy's mother releases after giving birth to calm and reassure her puppies. This pheromone has the same affect on adult dogs, and that it is why it is excellent to use to calm, and relax your dogs.
Thunder Jacket- Is a vest worn by the dog which applies constant, gentle pressure to the soft tissue which helps to reduce anxiety and promote feelings of relaxation
Create a safe place in your home- This is somewhere in your home that your dog feels safe and comfortable. All dogs have their favourite spots in their house. In their safe place you should have their beds and blankets, some of their favourite snuggle toys, and their crate, if you have crate trained them. Crates are fantastic in situations like this as you can cover them with extra blankets and they really make your dog feel safe and secure.
Use Lavender and Camomile- by safely adding both lavender and chamomile essential oils it helps to decrease depression, anxiety, and stress levels in community.
Calming Treats- Such as Vitarapid Tranquil. I use this for my dogs when Fireworks or thunderstorms are predicted. It is a fast acting solution that helps your dog to relax and maintain a healthy emotionally response, without making them drowsy.
Prepare your house- make sure that your dogs can't get out. Close all your windows and doors. Close all the curtains, that way they can't see the flashing fireworks as much. Turn up the volume in the tv or radio to try and mask the sound of the fireworks. A 2020 study Musical Dogs: A Review of the Influence of Auditory Enrichment on Canine Health and Behaviour suggests how music can have a calming effect on dogs, particularly classical music, and even talk back radio. So if you can try and put this on for your dogs.
Be there for your dog- Don't get stressed, angry or upset by your dog, and never punish them, Just be there to comfort them when they need it.
Chew Treat- if they aren't too anxious try and give them a long lasting chew treat, as dogs chewing is a way for them to decompress.
Phoenix wearing his Thunder Jacket and cuddling his teddy being calm and relaxed.
The day of the fireworks make sure your dog has had plenty of exercise, and that they have their ID tag on their collar. If they get out, this makes it easier for their return. If your dog gets too anxious it is worth while a trip to your vet to discuss medication options to keep them safe and calm.
Desensitising your dog to fireworks. This is done by playing sounds of fireworks on the lowest level (you may not be able to hear it, but your dog definitely can) whilst they are eating, having a treat, or snuffle matt. You will want to do this training when there is no real threat of fireworks happening and during the day. This ensures that the dog feels safe, and allows them to get used to the sounds. You will want to keep the volume at the same level for several days, and only keep playing the sounds for very short sessions in the beginning (1-2mins). Over time you slowly want to build up the volume and time of your sessions. Only increase the volume if your dog isn't showing any signs of being anxious or stressed. You need to ensure your dog is relaxed and calm before turning the volume up the next level. This sets the dog up to succeed.
By doing this training with treats, songs, games, snuffle matts etc they will start to be conditioned so that when they hear the sound of fireworks they will associate their treats or special game. This process takes time, but it is worth it. You're not going to cure your dogs fear or phobia of fireworks overnight, but with regular positive reinforcement training you will get there. This will also help build a lovely trusting relationship with your dog.
Finally, remember that is. terrifying for dogs to hear and sometimes see fireworks. When a dog gets that worked up, or terrified they have no control over their behaviour so please don't punish them for what they may do. Just be there for them, cuddle them, and start training them so they won't be as terrified for this New Years Eve fireworks. You and your dog will thank me .