There are lots of different reasons that people buy fireworks. Halloween, New Year, Christmas, maybe someone's birthday or another special occasion. So there's usually a party involved.
Those times may be fun for those taking part but for a lot of dog owners, it's a time they dread because their dog is terrified of the loud whoops, whistles and explosions that fireworks bring.
Our younger dog, Juno is immune to fireworks. This is because we have a venue near us that has a fireworks display on Saturday nights from July through to September. She came home to us at 9 weeks, shortly before the summer firework season started. She was at an age where she was not easily frightened, and now really couldn’t care less about them. Bella, our older dog came to us at 2yrs old and is very worried by them. I board dogs too and so there are times when fireworks are going off that I might have two or three frightened and worried dogs around me.
So, what can we do to lessen the stress for our dogs?
The first thing I would like to point out is please don’t listen to that old myth that comforting your dog when it is afraid is going to make the fear worse. This is not true. If you had a child who was afraid of something, wouldn’t you comfort the child? Of course you would. Same goes for dogs. Helping your dog with their fear by holding them and talking to them will not make it worse. Soft words and a gentle touch can work wonders on both dogs and children!
Putting on music or the TV fairly loud to drown out some of the noise can help. If your dog feels the need to go somewhere on his own and hide in the house, then allow him to do that.
For very nervous dogs, obtaining a Thundershirt or using a wrap can help too. The Thundershirt is a sort of jacket which fits tightly on your dog’s body.
The theory is that the feeling of being wrapped in something tight is comforting to the dog and can help when your dog is afraid. Some dog owners find them very helpful. If you have an old T shirt, that might do the trick as well. Thundershirts can be found in pet stores and online at their own website or companies like Amazon. Click here to link to the Thunder Shirt website so you can see what it looks like.
You can also wrap your dog yourself using a stretchy bandage. You wrap it in a figure of 8 around your dog’s chest, across the back and under the belly.
You can find You Tube demonstrations of a figure of 8 wrap. There are different kinds/methods of wraps. Click here to see a video.
If your dog is distractible then you could try my “Hunt The Treat” game. I do this with Bella. She’s worried by the fireworks, but not to the point of being a quivering mess. I practise it during the Saturday night fireworks events and it works really well. She is in fact becoming less worried by the fireworks now, and on occasions, she will even be calm when they are happening. But there are times where she seems to be more worried than others (they are very close by and extremely loud). I only use kibble for the game, but you could use anything that the dog likes. Kibble is easy, because I can have a cup of kibble by me and just take out some when I need to.
When the fireworks start, I toss a few pieces of kibble into the room and she goes to hunt for them. I toss only one or two pieces at a time. When there are really loud bangs, I toss a small handful, so she’s distracted by hunting for them. This is because the loud bangs often come close together. I carry on with this game until the fireworks stop. The reason Bella is becoming less sensitive to the fireworks is because she has started to associate those loud noises with something good happening. In fact when they start she will look to me because she knows that the kibble will come out.
The way to help a dog that is frightened of something is to use desensitisation and counter conditioning and this is what I am doing by playing my Hunt The Treat game. I am teaching her to associate the noise with something good happening. I’m lucky that food is a huge motivator to Bella. Food often trumps fear in a food motivated dog and so it is worth trying.
You can also try desensitising dogs to fireworks by buying a special CD which has the sounds of fireworks on it. When there aren't any fireworks, you can play it at home in the background to help desensitise your dog to those types of noises. There are usually full instructions with the CD to explain how to use it. Some people may find this very helpful. Click here for one of the sites that sell these CDs. This site is Dogwise which is a good resource for any books, CDs etc concerning dog training.
There are of course some dogs that are so affected by fireworks that none of the things I describe above are going to help.
If the effect on your dog is severe, then you might want to have a chat with your vet to see if they will prescribe a medication in order to help your dog calm down and cope with the event. Though some people are against medicating a dog, I believe that if it helps the dog on occasions when the dog is going to be severely stressed, then it is kinder for the dog.
If you try some of these methods let me know if any of them work for you!
Peace out, my fellow dog lovers