Help, my dog is scared of fireworks

hond_help_mijn_hond_is_bang_voor_vuurwerkImagine. 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?

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.

Behavioural 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. You can use an audio CD on which the noise your dog is scared of is recorded. You start by playing it softly, so as not to scare your dog, while you play with him (rolling a ball, tugging game) or offer something tasty to eat (cooked chicken, liver, dog sausage). Over time turn the volume of the CD up. Make sure that you stay below the volume level that your dog starts showing fear! It can take a few weeks or a few months before your dog does not react at full volume. Do this in different rooms in the house and also outside. 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 September or October 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 ok
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.

The use of pain (for example using an aversive slip chain) does not help in overcoming a dog’s fear. You can teach a dog something in these situations using a pain but it is counter productive. Think like your dog for a minute: you hear something that makes you scared and then you get a short pain in your neck. The noise then means that it is not safe here and you can best leave as soon as possible.

It used to be the advice not to comfort a scared dog but research has shown that dogs react well to support from their owner. 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. If your dog is fearful of an object that makes noise you can move further away or go to the other side of the street. In any case at a greater distance so that the dog can see and hear he object but is no longer scared. This is the same method as using the CD and gradually increasing the volume of the scary noise.

Tips for New Years Eve

  • Take your dog out before 10 pm. If there are a lots of fireworks in your area then look for a quiet place so that your dog can let off steam. Otherwise you can let your dog out in the garden, just for this once.
  • You can also take your dog to a place where there are not many fireworks such as family or friends in 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! Radio 4 with classic music is often relaxing for a dog.
  • Don’t react to strange behaviour of your dog, that reinforces the fear.
  • 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 if it is left open around this time.
  • Give your dog a bone or a new toy on New Years Eve to distract him.
  • If you use medicine give it in plenty of time. Discuss this with your vet or behavioural trainer.
  • Check the registration of your dog’s chip number on . Give your dog a penning on his collar with his name and your phone number. This will help the person who finds your dog contact you directly.
  • 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 which can be downloaded for iphone and android from Royal Canin.

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, your own attitude towards your dog or if there has been a specific traumatic experience.

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.