Remember, remember, the fifth of November, dog’s favourite night this is not. As the dark skies of autumn come, they are about to burst in to colour with fireworks. Whilst the crackles and bangs of fireworks leave our human pals oohing and aahing, our canine friends are likely to be far from happy. Dogs on bonfire night are rarely at their happiest, and it’s vital that you know how to calm an anxious dog.
It’s important to be prepared, in advance of firework season, so that you know how to get your hound through this unsettling, and sometimes frightening, period.
Firstly, realise that if your dog is frightened of fireworks and loud bangs, they are far from alone. There’s nothing you’ve done wrong and they aren’t being badly behaved. Many, many dogs on Bonfire Night find it bewildering, disorientating and unsettling.
How do I know if my dog is anxious?
Sometimes it is abundantly clear that your dog isn’t coping with the fear induced by loud unexpected noises, such as fireworks. They can become extremely vocal and really let you know. However, other signs are less obvious. A dog could be experiencing anxiety if they:
- Cower or hide, or even seem more subdued or quieter than usual.
- Shake and tremble.
- Salivate greatly.
- Pace and move around the house more than normal.
- Pant with no other clear reason.
- Scratch or exhibit other destructive behaviour.
It’s natural, as a caring and conscientious dog owner, to respond to your dog’s fear with reassurance and physical attention. There are definitely times when this is appropriate. However, particularly if your dog is young and not yet experienced with fireworks, too much reassurance can signal that they are right to be afraid. To them it reinforces that there is danger which they need protecting from.
Unfortunately, this can inadvertently make the problem worse – particularly for the future. If possible, it is best to normalise the bangs and noise, and not confirm to the dog that their fears are well-founded.
However, this doesn’t mean that you are left helpless and unable to do anything to make it better. Try and enact some of the following suggestions:
- Check the date: Forewarned is forearmed, so see if you can find out when your local larger displays will be on. You won’t be able to avoid smaller neighbourhood displays, but these should pose less challenge anyway. Nonetheless, do ask immediate neighbours to inform you if they are planning a display. When you know which dates and times you need to be wary of, you can plan more effectively.
- Desensitisation: Before Bonfire Night itself, you can work to increase your dog’s tolerance for loud noises and bangs. You can listen to music with a heavy drum beat, gradually increasing the volume (whilst considering your neighbours and your ears!). You can even download sounds of firework sounds and thunderstorms from the internet and gradually increase the exposure to your dog. If you wish, you can even associate their tolerance with positive reward by giving them a treat. Another desensitisation option is to enjoy action movies at a slightly higher volume than usual. You get an evening of entertainment whilst your hound gets some valuable training!
- Keep pets indoors: It’s obvious, but sometimes difficult to manage with so many displays at different times. However, keeping your dog indoors when fireworks are likely to be set off can help to muffle the noise and therefore be less startling. By keeping your dog indoors, this also has the added benefit of being their ‘safe space’. Ensure they have access to where they may like to hide, such as their crate, their bed, or even under yours!
- Walk them during daylight hours: Fireworks are set off at night. Therefore, try to ensure their walks on and around Bonfire Night happen during daylight. With work commitments in winter months this can be tricky, and for this reason it can be worth using a dog walking service or doggy day care. If you do walk your dog after dark, then either head out early or late, outside of likely display times. Additionally, keep your dog on their lead and stay close to home. If they become frightened, they will then be more manageable and less likely to run off.
- Demonstrate a calm approach: Your dog looks to you for cues as to whether they should be anxious. Behave calmly and normally, and do your best to carry on with usual things around the home nonchalantly. Perhaps put on some soothing calm music to help with both the atmosphere and to muffle out sounds from outside. For the same reason, it can also help to buddy your dog up with a canine friend of theirs who you know is calm and nonplussed by fireworks.
- Distraction: If the above techniques are not proving ample for calming your dog then it may be time to try some distraction. Fun retrieval games indoors, or bundling with their favourite toy, can work wonders for getting their mind off their fears.
- Rest and Feed: A dog which has less pent up energy is better positioned to tackle anxiety. Therefore, ensure your dog has been taken for a decent walk and exercise earlier in the day. Make sure they’ve had access to food and water before the fireworks start. That way they will be in the best physical shape to sail through.
A Trip Away or a Trip to the Vets
If you know from experience that your dog is extremely anxious when fireworks are going off, then the safest and kindest thing to do can be to take them away. Choose somewhere very rural, away from the risk of noise from large scale displays. You also get a blissful weekend away, perhaps enjoying long autumn walks before warming up by a log fire.
If taking them away isn’t an option, and you know your dog really struggles, do have a chat with your vet. In some instances, they can give your dog anti-anxiety medications to help them navigate this tricky spell, or pheromone aerosols to calm them.
Dogs on Bonfire Night don’t appreciate the human style of fun. Hopefully our tips on how to calm an anxious dog will give you and your pooch the tools to cope.