What to do when your dog develops a fear of fireworks Loud bangs and flashing lights can be really worrying and upsetting for both puppies and adult dogs. It is therefore not surprising that unfortunately, many dogs have a phobia of fireworks. Even confident dogs can be turned to quivering wrecks at the first hint of a firework going off.
Luckily, there are lots of ways that we can prevent firework phobias in puppies and reduce anxiety around them in already phobic dogs. Starting as early as possible with the training is really important, don’t leave it until the week before! Little and often is key, so leaving yourself with no time to work on the training is setting you and your dog up to fail. What do I need to start the training? Ensure that your dog has a safe space to retreat to when they are anxious. If your dog is happy in a crate, this is perfect. Cover it with blankets and fill with thick bedding so that they can cocoon themselves inside when they panic and we can ‘put the blinkers on’ them – ignorance is bliss! Remember not to shut them in, the door stays open so that we don’t create further feelings of panic.
If your dog is worried by a crate, no problem! A really comfy, thick bed that they can sink into has the same effect. Place it in an enclosed corner or under a table so that they are still tucked away and feel sheltered.
Next we are going to train your dog to love their safe space. Start by throwing treats into the bed so that they are rewarded when they choose to put their paws into it. You will find they want to spend longer and longer in there in anticipation of rewards, keep them coming! Next give them a Kong or Lick mat in their safe space to ensure they spend a long time in there. This helps to build positive associations with the space which causes their body and mind to calm down when they are in there. This is why this is so beneficial for fireworks season!
They love their space, now what? Now the real magic happens! Which involves desensitising your dog to the sound of fireworks. This means we are going to change their emotional response from one of fear to indifference. Give your dog a well filled snuffle mat or Kong. Then, find a fireworks soundtrack on YouTube and starting on volume 1, play the soundtrack. We are looking for curiosity such as head tilts, ears pricking and not fear such as whining, tail tucking or running away. Then very gradually we are going to increase the volume over time until there is no fear response. This has to be done over several weeks, don't be tempted to rush through the volumes. Then move the speaker around to different rooms and behind the curtains to make the sounds more realistic. If your dog shows any signs of fear, turn the soundtrack off and reduce the volume next time. My dog already has a severe phobia If your dog is already very phobic of fireworks speak to your vet. Underlying pain or medical conditions very often cause or exacerbate noise phobias so this needs checking out. You can also discuss anxiety medication with your vet before we get to fireworks season. What can I do on a fireworks night? Walk your dog well before it gets dark so the chances of them being outside when they go off is very small. Don’t leave your dog unattended in the garden as many dogs each year go missing when they bolt during fireworks. Have the TV on louder than usual, curtains shut and lots of frozen enrichment in the freezer ready to give out throughout the evening. Don’t make a big deal when you hear fireworks, in fact don’t acknowledge them at all. But if your dog does panic don’t feel like you can’t reassure at all! You cannot reinforce fear through reassurance, in fact as with us, a cuddle at an anxious time can really make you feel better. So calm strokes and telling them that everything is going to be fine, is fine! You don’t have to just hope that your puppy will be fine around fireworks or just accept that your phobic dog is beyond help, there is lots that can be done, you just need to set the time apart, early enough, to work on it!