Black labrador puppy in Guide Dog harness

Dogs & Fireworks

Help your dog cope with fireworks

Dogs have more acute hearing than humans and can often be scared of loud noises, such fireworks or thunder. Some dogs, especially retrievers or labradors (often used as gundogs), can be completely unphased. Each dog is different though.

What can I do to make my dog more comfortable with Fireworks?

There are days each year that are typically celebrated with fireworks, such as New Year’s Eve, Australia Day or Chinese New Year celebrations, so you should start to make preparations well in advance of any such day, to help your dog become less sensitive and more relaxed.

Before the Event

If you know that your dog is afraid of fireworks, try and help them become less sensitive to the bangs and noises. This should ideally be commenced a few months in advance, but it wont hurt to start right away, if you have less time.

You can do this by playing the sound of fireworks from a YouTube video such as this one (opens in new window).

Before a walk or dinnertime, when your dog is in a calm and relaxed state, begin with a short duration for a 2-3 minutes at a very low volume. Gradually increase the volume during the session. If this is then followed by the walk or food, they will begin to make a positive association with the sound of fireworks. Repeat this every day, once or twice daily.

It is important that you act as if nothing has happened. Don’t make a fuss of the dog if they start to become anxious – doing so will reinforce the message that fireworks ARE something to be afraid of and they will be rewarded (with attention) if they react negatively. Reward with affection or a small food treat when they are calm.

On the Day of the Event

  • Take your dog for a good walk later in the day, so they are tired and happy to sleep.
  • Consider giving them a new toy to occupy and distract them – or ensure their favourite toy is available to play with.
  • Feed your dog earlier than usual and take your dog to the toilet before the fireworks are due to start.
  • Turn on the TV or radio to help mask the sound of fireworks.
  • Make sure windows, doors and garden gates are secure, so they can’t escape. Make sure their collar is worn and ID tag information such as telephone number is correct, incase they do manage to get out.
  • Create a den or safe area for your dog to go if they become scared. A crate, covered with a towel or blanket or a pet carrier is an ideal space.
  • If possible, arrange a “sleepover” for your dog with a friend or relative that lives away from where any fireworks will be held.

After the Event

  • Your dog may be afraid to go outside. Extra encouragement and treats for going outside will help to rebuild confidence and create positive associations.
  • Your dog’s recall (willingness to come back) may be affected in the days following fireworks or a thunderstorm. We recommend to keep them on a lead if you take them out for a walk.
  • Some private celebrations go on for more than one day, so be prepared for more than one evening of disruption.

What are the Warning Signs of Stress in a Dog?

You of course, will know your dog the best and be able to tell if they aren’t their usual happy self. These warning signs will tell you if your dog is scared or stressed.

Your dog may show some or all of these signs, the more obvious of which can include:

  • Barking or whining
  • Trembling or quivering
  • Trying to escape – loud noises can trigger the fight or flight survival instinct and your dog may try to run away
  • Hiding under tables or chairs or behind your legs
  • Attention seeking behaviour – such as demanding affection by pawing or jumping up at you
  • May be more destructive than usual – eg. chewing or clawing at furniture or doors
  • May relieve themselves in the house (when usually house-trained)
  • Vomiting or loosening of bowels

Some signs are more subtle than others:

  • Unable to settle – constantly shifting position or pacing around
  • Panting, excessive licking of lips or lips pulled back in a “cheshire cat grin”

As pack leader, a dog will look to you for clues on how to react or behave. Being calm and relaxed will help to create positive energy and show that there is nothing for them to be concerned about.

What can I do if my dog is extremely anxious about fireworks?

Some dogs can have extremely negative reactions to fireworks and loud noises, despite your best efforts to desensitise them. Consider using a thundershirt to help ease anxiety. This is a jacket that applies gentle, constant pressure – similar in principle to swaddling a baby. As a last resort, your vet may be able to recommend a mild sedative for your dog.

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