The terrifying bangs and flashes of fireworks

Fireworks & Thunderstorms

I personally wish that fireworks were restricted to well-publicised, licensed communal events, on one particular designated day only, not available for the general public to purchase and with private fireworks made illegal. I know I am a killjoy, but it can be truly terrible for animals.

So you are reading this because you have left it too late and your dog is now terrified to go outside?

  • If he was outside when he heard that first bang, whatever place he was in may very well now be ‘contaminated’.
  • Forcing your dog outside to that place now will only make matters worse.
  • If in the garden, leave the dog indoors and sprinkle favourite food just outside the door and leading to the scary area. Lace the environment. Now let the dog out but keep quiet. It’s all about the environment producing good stuff, not yourself.
  • Any area you feel is frightening to the dog, lace with food. This could be out on walks too.
  • Make sure you have a pouch of this food on you when you go outside, because your dog may now be generally very sound-sensitive. As soon as there is any bang of any sort, irrespective of the dog’s reaction, cheer and be jolly. then either drop food about, throw a ball or play tug – whatever your dog likes the best.
  • If food is what works best, it helps to go out with a dog that is hungry.

Forward planning

  • Desensitise and counter-condition your dog in advance, to the extent that he comes to welcome a bang. If your dog is already fearful you will need professional help with this.
  • Pair fireworks and bangs with fun and food. This only works if the dog is ‘under-threshold’ – at a distance from the bang where he feels relatively safe but is still aware of it.
  • How you behave when your dog first encounters fireworks, or thunder, or bird-scarers is crucial.
  • If you act all concerned and comforting, then you may be feeding the fear. I personally with my own dogs go ‘whoopee’ and engage in play and drop food immediately. This way it has never become a big issue.
  • Some dogs are a lot more reactive to noises than others. It can be genetic, breed-related or due to things that have happened along with how their humans have reacted.
  • Prepare your dog in advance by working on a trusting relationship so that he/she will know YOU are the Protector. Too many people give their dogs this role by allowing their dogs access to guard duty at windows or outside where they spend much of their day waiting for sounds or sights to bark at.

This may be impossible to do alone. You may need my help or that of another professional in your own area.

If you know your dog is terrified, with forward planning he/she can be helped. One way is to generate bangs yourself (with special CDs, pots and pans, party poppers and so on). You can create continuous streams and then gaps where the sounds are sudden and spasmodic – just like the real thing. You will need several weeks or maybe longer.

How you generate bangs and at what intensity is important, because it’s essential you keep the dog ‘under-threshold’, where he’s aware of the bang without feeling so unsafe that he won’t even eat.

  • Gradually and carefully, starting very soft and low, the sounds can be generated for several minutes each day and at different times of day – always looking for anxiety in the dog.
  • You must be quiet and calm, like it’s nothing out of the ordinary.
  • He can be casually fed particularly tasty titbits at the same time as each bang so that he/she builds an association between the sounds and nice things.
  • Gradually increase the volume and duration (you may need ear plugs!).
  • If one day the dog seems stressed, cut it back a notch or two.
  • Then, thoroughly desensitised to the sounds inside your home, when the real thing occurs play your own fireworks DVD at the same time – if that has been part of your programme.
  • Find sounds outside if possible also – bird scarers for instance – but not until the dog is ready. This could take weeks or months of regular short sessions. Highest quality food is needed or else the favourite game.

However, if it’s now too late for preparation, all is not lost

It is important that your dogs look to you for your own reaction, and to the extent that they trust you to look after them (and having a trusting relationship with your dog is necessary where you are seen to be strong and brave, not weak and nervous) they will follow your example.

Comforting is important – but not if you show agitation yourself. Be matter-of-fact and DO something. Be proactive.

You may well need to get help from a professional to improve the balance of your relationship with your dog:

  • If she is too pampered she may be needy and insecure. If she is over-controlled by owners, she may lack self control.
  • He may need to learn some independence for his own sake.
  • She may also need to learn to trust her humans.
  • Some dogs, by their very nature or breed, will be a lot more sensitive to noise and sudden happenings. Just like people, some are more jumpy than others.

If you live in my area, I can help you to make a big difference in a very few days.

What happens next is largely down to you.

Hints and Tips

  • Ask your neighbours to let you know if they are going to have fireworks – AND KEEP YOUR DOGS INDOORS.
  • On days where there may be fireworks – too many days around New Year, November 5th and religious festivals – and also late on Saturday evenings in the open-air concert season – KEEP YOUR DOG INDOORS. Walks just are not that important. If the dog needs to toilet in the garden, leave the door open so she can run in should she want to, and accompany him/her.
  • Many dogs first experience of fireworks is when they are out alone in the garden and suddenly there is a very loud bang overhead. The dog panics and may not be able to get back in. You may even be out and the dog alone. Some dogs are so scared that they refuse to go outside again, start toileting indoors and may even refuse to go for walks. Don’t leave your dog out in the garden, or even with access to the garden, when you are out.
  • React by being playful yourself and dropping food. This needs to be instant. I find with my own dogs that they are better if we all go outside and have a ‘party’. Do all sorts of fun things with lots of best food. When we come back in again they ignore any further bangs.
  • Associating bangs with good stuff unless the dog is so frantic he won’t take even the tastiest food. Some people have the misconception that this is rewarding fear, but you can’t reinforce fear because it’s an emotion. Using food doesn’t reward fear, it reduces fear.
  • If he’s too scared for play or food, keep calm and be there for your dog but don’t fuss him! A calm, steady and quiet touch is enough. Carry on doing normal things. Show by your own body language that it’s nothing to worry about. This isn’t done with a lot of so-called ‘comforting’ chatting where you yourself will sound anxious (for the dog – but he doesn’t know that).
  • Panic in the dog is pitiful to see, but it’s very important that you don’t fuel it with panicking about your dog’s panic! Draw the curtains, turn the TV up, and go about your normal daily activities. Allow your dog to find his or her own bolt-hole, even if it means going under the bed in the bedroom where he’s not normally allowed, and leave him alone. If he wants comfort from you, he will find you. You could spray in there with Pet Remedy spray.
  • Through a Dog’s Ear music is good. First, the music should have been played lots of times when your dog is relaxed and happy to build up happy and calm associations.
  • Try not to go out and leave your dog alone on nights where there may be fireworks. If you must go out, get someone to sit in – and train them how to react if there are bangs.

People who themselves are afraid of thunder and sudden loud noises invariably pass this on to their dogs. They anticipate their dog may be scared and react accordingly – actually causing fear.

Finally, to back up your own behaviour and work

  • You may like to Google ‘Zylkene’. Some recommend DAP spray or plug-ins (Pheromone Appeasing) but from personal experience with clients I have found neither to be particularly effective in severe cases. Pet Remedy spray or plug-in may be more effective.
  • Also  try a‘Thundershirt’ – this is a lot more likely to help. It works great with about 50% of dogs and not at all with others.
  • If really severe, you may need to talk to your vet who is unlikely to prescribe medication unless backed up with behaviour work. Desensitisation is best in the long run. There are holistic things you can give your dog. Some people swear by Valerian to help calm a dog. Others have proof that Bach remedies work. Possibly blitzing the dog with as many of these alternative things all at once could be the best option to back up general behaviour work.

My Firework Story

When my dogs first encountered fireworks years ago I had three young dogs. All of a sudden the sky came alive with noise and light. It took me by surprise! My neighbours were having a big firework party but had not warned us. The dogs were in their sleeping place under my desk, but as their world exploded they were instantly up and at the door. I reacted exactly as I would if it had been nothing special. I opened the door and went out with them. They all ran ouside with me and went back in very quickly!! I said nothing but went back in and shut the door, pulled the blinds down and went back to my desk.

Every time there was a bang I dropped food on the floor. It seemed continuous at times.

The following weekend there were more fireworks the other side of my garden, and we all sat out under our covered veranda and watched – with food snacks, just as we may do during a storm.

I am not exaggerating when I say that on subsequent occasions they would look at me, see that I am chilled, look to see if there is any food coming their way and then settle down. They trust me to keep them safe because of the way I always behave with them, and this is what I can teach you. The earlier you start before November 5th, the better.

With my current dogs I do much the same but I am more proactive. We go out and we ‘party’ before coming back in and settling.

Resources

Here is a lovely email I have received from a lady who read this page

“Thank you so much for your prompt reply…

We have had Mollie from 12 weeks ( RSPCA ) this is not her first encounter with the horrible things. Last year she was not too bad, but then again there was not as many as tonight!

She is 2 at Christmas.
At the moment she is on her blanket on our settee, we have the tv on, my husband is doing his normal crossword and I’m here on the computer. We have just gone about our normal things since reading your most helpful paragraphs.

My first reaction in the beginning was to cuddle her because it was terrible seeing her so distressed, but like i mention above after reading your information it was not the best thing to do and she has settled, bless her. My westie is asleep (another rescue dog) and my cat is curled up asleep ha ha yes another rescued pet.

Thank you so much again for all your help and great information, even though i have had lots and lots of animals i have learned something very important by reading your vital most important information for any dog/pet.

Susan and Moliie xx”