A lot of dogs struggle with the loud bangs and fizzes that come with firework night. Whilst you can work with your dog to help them overcome this fear, this can take a lot of time. Sometimes, you just need a way to get through and manage the occasion as best as you can: and that’s exactly what the tips below can help with. However, if your dog is worried by fireworks, make sure you reach out to a force-free dog trainer in the new year to teach your dog how to cope. Alternatively, you can follow the steps in our blog, “How to Get Your Dog to Love Fireworks”.
Tire Your Dogs Out
A tired dog is more likely to sleep through the whole fiasco. Take them for a long day-time walk if you can (bear in mind that puppies must be limited in time due to their growth and development needs). When you get home, around dusk-time, try playing some brain games with them too. This can be things such as puzzle feeders or fun training sessions – anything that gets them thinking.
Once you’re done with those, it’s the perfect time to get them to calm down ready for a long nap. Carry on reading to see some good calming activities to use!
Set Up The Environment To Mask The Fireworks
If your dog can’t see or hear the fireworks, they’re much less likely to be afraid of them. The main fear-factor of fireworks is the noise, so try to mask this as much as possible. A good way to do this is to have the radio or TV playing at a moderately loud volume, as this will disguise the bangs and pops from outside. Pick a channel that has constant sound, without any pauses (i.e. no talent show results!). Make sure that all windows and external doors are closed, as this will also reduce the noise your dog can hear.
Next up, you want to lessen any flashes or explosions of light that might spook your dog. Draw all of your curtains to stop most of the light getting through: if you have some windows without curtains, try hanging up some bedsheets to mask the window. You want to keep the lights on too, so that any light that does make it through the curtains won’t be so obvious. If your dog prefers the dark, give them a little den within the room to curl up in (see below).
Make Sure Your Dog Can Toilet If They Need To
The first rule of thumb when preparing for fireworks is to take your dog out to toilet before it even gets dark – that’s around 5pm for us in the UK. This way you’re unlikely to hear any fireworks on your walk, and your dog should be able to relieve themselves in peace.
Once the fireworks start, you want to keep your dog inside as much as possible: and definitely don’t let them outside off-lead. If your dog is coping okay with the fireworks, feel free to pop them into the garden on a lead, but don’t stray too far from the house, and only do this as and when it’s absolutely necessary. If they show any sign of fear, take them straight back inside.
If you don’t think your dog would be okay with this – if fireworks are a big concern for them – then choose to use puppy pads instead. Make sure you choose pads that have an inbuilt attractant, such as these ones from Simple Solutions. This will help your dog to target the pad – rather than peeing around it. Place these next to the door that leads outside to avoid too much confusion. Don’t worry about this undoing all your hard work with toilet-training: once you remove the pads, they should go straight back to normal, and this option is much better than risking a UTI and a hefty vet bill that could stem from holding their bladder!
Finally, make sure you take them outside earlier than usual the next day. When dogs are scared, they may be more tempted to hold onto their pee, so you need to give them plenty of opportunity to empty those bladders!
Secure The House
You will have no doubt heard of the fight or flight response when humans get scared – dogs have the same thing! Some dogs will try to run away when they hear fireworks, as they just want to escape the scariness of it all. Make sure that all exit points from the house are closed and locked: this includes windows, doors, and even cat flaps. If you can’t lock them, try to secure them in any way you can – never underestimate the ability of a scared dog!
Despite locking down the house, you still want to give them access to all of the usual rooms. They must have choice over where they want to be (within reason) to keep them comfortable. Keep your internal doors open to allow this, but keep an eye on where they end up to make sure they’re not getting too distressed.
Make Them As Comfy As Possible
It’s always a good idea to make sure your dog can access a comfy, plush bed, and to make sure they can access water if they need. However, firework night can make a lot of dogs want to hide away in cosy dens to help drown out the scary outside world. Some dogs benefit from having a darker, covered area that they can retreat to; once again, it’s important to give them this choice. A good way to do this is to use a crate or pen and drape blankets or towels over the top. Make sure you leave the door open at all times, so they can go in and out as they please. If you don’t want to buy one of these, you can fashion your own out of furniture – for example, placing two sofas near each other, and draping blankets over the gap: just so long as there’s enough space in there for your dog to lie out.
Whatever you choose, get it ready at least several days before the big night – ideally, even longer – so that your pup has a chance to get used to it and see it as a safe haven. Try feeding your dog in this space, or giving them some tasty chews there, to boost the positive vibes.
One of the biggest misconceptions about firework night is that you shouldn’t comfort a scared dog: this is complete hogwash! There is no harm at all in comforting a scared dog, as long as that’s what they want. If they come to you, by all means cuddle them and reassure them. If you try this and they move away or start to get more anxious, leave them be.
There are a few fantastic products out there to help dogs survive firework night in peace.
DAP: This is a synthetic version of the naturally-occuring dog-appeasing pheromone, which is typically released by the dog’s mum when she’s given birth. It has some fantastic calming effects, including reducing stress in dogs during firework displays1. You can get it in various forms, including as plug-in diffusers, temporary collars, or as a spray.
Valerian: This is a naturally calming herb that has been in use since at least the time of the ancient Greeks. Scientists still aren’t sure exactly how it works, but it’s commonly thought that it mimics one of the dog’s own calming hormones, amplifying their feelings of zen. This is also available in a wide range of products: most common are tablets and drops, but you can also get it in a spray form.
Thundershirt: This is a piece of clothing that applies pressure to your dog’s torso, which has been shown to help reduce anxiety-related symptoms, such as a high heart rate2. Make sure it’s done up tightly, otherwise your dog won’t feel the benefit!
Body Wraps: These strips of elastic material work in the same way as a Thundershirt, and can be tied in a figure-of-8 style to give the same results.
Fun Fact: the effects of a thundershirt or body wrap can also be achieved through massage and stroking3!
General Calming Activities
It can be so hard to know what to give your pup to do in these times, as you don’t want to risk making anything worse or getting them too over-excited. As a general rule of thumb, any activity which promotes sniffing, licking, or chewing is likely to chill your pup out, so you can get creative within these limits.
A firm favourite in my household is the snuffle mat, which is a textured mat (you can buy one or make it yourself). You sprinkle treats amongst all the fabric, and let your dog sniff out the goodies. It’s great for calming your pooch, and for tiring their brain out! If your dog is well used to this and wants something a little more challenging, check out the Buster Activity Mat.
Lick-pads also go down a treat (pun intended) time and time again. You can get different types depending on your dog’s preference, and then you just need to smear something tasty over the top of it. Common favourites are WOOF peanut butter, some of your dog’s wet food, mushed up JR pate, or even natural yoghurt.
Another easy option is to fill up a KONG Classic (the licki-mat toppings also work well here). If your dog is new to this, feed it at room temperature. If your dog has got the hang of it and can empty out a KONG in record time, try freezing it to get it to last a little longer.
We hope these tips help you and your pooch to have a peaceful night. If you have any more ideas, why not share them with our Waggy community below?
1 Sheppard, G., and Mills, D.S. (2003) Evaluation of dog-appeasing pheromone as a potential treatment for dogs fearful of fireworks. Vet Record. 152(14): 432-436. https://doi.org/10.1136/vr.152.14.432
2 King, C., Buffington, L., Smith, T.J., and Grandin, T. (2014) The effect of a pressure wrap (ThunderShirt®) on heart rate and behaviour in canines diagnosed with anxiety disorder. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour. 9(5): 215-221. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2014.06.007
3 Lloyd, J.K.F. (2017) Minimising stress for patients in the veterinary hospital: Why it is important and what can be done about it. Veterinary Sciences. 4(2): 22. https://doi.org/10.3390/vetsci4020022