Scared of fireworks

bang voor vuurwerk : fearful of fireworksImagine. You are lying comfortably in your basket surrounded by familiar smells and noises. Suddenly you smell gun smoke, you hear loud bangs and crashes and you see lots of flashes through the window for no obvious reason. You don’t understand where the noise is coming from and whatever you do it doesn’t stop. Running away doesn’t help. What would you do if you were a dog?

My dog is scared of fireworks
Fear of loud noises is a natural reaction for a dog. In the distant past these noises often signalled danger. The survival instinct is one of the strongest instincts we have. Sometimes the fear of noises such as fireworks or thunder is so strong that dogs can have a panic reaction. Your dog either won’t go outside or he escapes and runs away. Before you know he has been hit by a car or is 20km away in the fields.

Our dogs need to learn to supress this natural reaction and ignore all the scary or unusual noises in our living area and surroundings. This often causes the dog a lot of stress. You notice him panting, hiding, trembling, attempting escape, drooling, unable to move, urinating, barking or whining and his tail tucked to his belly. A dog that exhibits this kind of fear feels very miserable. He doesn’t know what to do and cannot cope with the situation very well. This type of fear combined with a clear panic reaction needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

It is often the case that once a dog has been scared by a firework he is no longer only afraid of fireworks but also other sudden loud noises. Thunder, the exhaust of a car, a passing motorbike, a slammed door or even closing a kitchen cupboard or dropping a pen on the ground. Your dog has generalised all loud noises and is on the alert all day for what might happen.

Behavioral counseling is necessary. Change the association of loud noises: so that the loud noise is no longer scary but is trained to be associated with a happy feeling or a good taste in his mouth. Firework training involves a combination of playing a firework noise at the same time as playing with your dog or feeding him something tasty. The duration of the training is different for every dog. This is also dependent on the original reason for the fear of fireworks. Start in plenty of time with the training, for example in springtime or autumn for New Year fireworks.

Fireworks and Thunder
You can practice training your dog with fireworks with a DVD where there is picture as well as sound. Fireworks are not just sounds but also have light flashes which can also affect your dog. With fear of thunder this is more difficult. The light flashes can be recorded but the static electricity in the air is difficult to reproduce. If your dog is sensitive to this and can feel the thunder before there is even a cloud in the sky then you need to keep track of the weather forecasts. On stormy days it is advisable to give your dog something to calm him down until your dog has learnt to cope with the loud bags and flashes.

You can use a anxiety or fear suppressant medicine if your dog is too afraid to train. These medicines can support the firework or thunder training or reduce the fear in acute situations. You can of course choose for homeopathic or natural medicine instead of normal ones. If you do this you need to start at least 4 weeks before the training. Get some advice over which medicine to use. You can ask your vet which would be best for your dog in combination with the behavioural training.

Giving support is okay
Extreme fear in a dog can not only be a result an instinctive reaction but is also influenced by our own behaviour. We also jump at loud noises and look to see where the noise is coming from. This doesn’t matter. So long as we quickly recover the dogs fear will not be reinforced. However, running home if something scares you does increase your dog’s fear reaction. You are running from the noise and confirming to him that there is something to be scared of.

Correcting a dog does not help in overcoming a dog’s fear. This is counter productive. It will make the whole situation worse for the dog.

A few years back the advice was not to comfort a scared dog. Fortunately research has shown that dogs react well to support from their owner (which every owner already knew!) A hand on his back (not petting extremely) and calming words can calm a dog. Once your dog has recovered from the shock and relaxes you can continue with your walk.

Tips for New Years Eve

  • Take your dog out before 10pm. Look for a quiet place or let your dog out in the garden, just for this once.
  • You can also take your dog to the countryside or rent a bungalow on a firework free holiday park.
  • Keep your dog on the lead (from half way through November).
  • Close the curtains, leave the lights on and turn on music (slightly louder than normal) but be aware that some radio stations also play firework sounds!
  • Don’t react to strange behaviour of your dog, that reinforces the fear. You can give him support though.
  • Give him a safe spot where he can hide (under the table, in the shower, in his crate with a blanket on top) and reassure him occasionally.
  • Don’t leave a scared dog alone and make sure that he can’t escape through the door.
  • Give your dog a bone or a new toy on New Years Eve to distract him.
  • If you use medicine give it in time before the fireworks start. Discuss this with your vet or behavioural trainer.
  • Check the registration of your dog’s chip number on .
  • If you are missing your dog then check with the police, the dog shelter, animal ambulance and the society for lost and found animals Amivedi ( Don’t forget to let them know if you’ve found your dog!
  • First Aid (EHBO): there is a free EHBO app from Royal Canin for i-phone and android.

Start on time
Before you start behavioural training you need to realize that firework training can take some time. Luckily most dogs can be helped coping their fear of thunder and fireworks. Some factors which can influence the training are: the cause of the fear, how long the dog has been scared of fireworks, if the fear was born with your dog, or whether something has happened that scared your dog.

What to do?
Is your dog scared of fireworks, thunder or other sudden noises and do you want to address the problem. Please fill in the Registration form and we’ll make an appointment for Behavioral Counseling for Dogs.