Fear of fireworks is more common in some dog breeds than others, a recent university study has found. The study looked at standard poodles and discovered that these dogs were 28% more likely to fear fireworks than other breeds. In general, they were less tolerant of loud noises. Cairn Terriers, Welsh Corgis and Rough Collies also display a heightened fear response to loud noise.
In general, most dogs dislike loud or sudden noise. Thunder, fireworks and loud vehicles are the most common noise phobia triggers. Dogs’ sensitivity to the changes in barometric pressure can trigger fearful reactions to thunder long before humans even hear it. With Guy Fawkes approaching, we’ve asked our vets for advice on how to deal with a fearful dog when fireworks light up the sky.
Fear of fireworks can be soothed
Keeping a fearful dog calm on Guy Fawkes can be a challenge but there are things you can do at home to help keep your dog calm.
1. Keep your dog away from fireworks
Don’t take your dogs to fireworks displays and don’t leave them outside on Guy Fawkes night.
2. Make sure your pet has proper ID
More pets go missing during Guy Fawkes than at any other time of the year. Microchipping your dog is your best insurance against him becoming lost. If he or she is already microchipped, make sure your contact information is up to date. Many people forget to update their contact details when moving house.
3. Create a safe haven for your dog
Before Guy Fawkes night create a place where your dog feels comfortable. Dogs are den animals — they’re looking for that cave to get away from it all. Try setting up an area in a quiet space away from windows — such as a basement or a larger cupboard — so that they can’t hear or see fireworks or use a crate if that’s where your dog feels safe. Line the crate or safe space with familiar bedding; add toys and treats.
4. Play white noise
Any sound that is soothing and blocks out the sound of fireworks will help to calm your dog. Leave on a fan or radio on to help mask the sound. “There’s some classical music called ‘Through a Dog’s Ear’ that has been shown to have calming effects for dogs,” according to Jenn Stanley, a behaviour consultant and professional dog trainer.
5. Comfort your dog
If you can, try staying home with your dog or leaving them in the hands of a trusted person. It’s important to remain calm and use a soothing, even tone. Use long, slow, firm strokes along the length of their body when petting.
The one thing you should absolutely not do is get hysterical yourself, like using a high pitched voice or shouting at your dog to stay calm. This makes your dog think there really is something to fear.
6. Walk before the fireworks start
Take your dog for a long walk before sunset. Make sure his leash or harness is secure.
7. Try desensitisation
If you suspect your dog will freak out at the sound of fireworks, try playing sounds of fireworks (softly) so your dog gets used to hearing them. Try pairing a video of the sounds of fireworks with treats your dog likes. The volume should be low enough that your dog can notice it, but does not show signs of stress like panting, pacing, leaving the area, or trying to hide.
8. Talk to Your Vet
If your pet’s anxiety is severe, consider booking an appointment with your vet well in advance of Guy Fawkes so you can discuss a medication that could help soothe your dog’s anxiety. EberVet Vetshops also sell over-the-counter calming meds like Calmeze for cats and dogs.
9. Consider hiring a trainer
If fear is negatively impacting your pup’s life, consider enlisting the expertise of a trainer or behaviour consultant who can help desensitise your dog to loud sounds.
Above all, never ever shout at your dog or act aggressively when he shows fear. This will only exacerbate the problem.