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  • Sue

Helping your dog with firework season

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November…”

For some of you it will be coming up to the time of year that you dread – that night (or maybe, several nights) when your dog will turn into a shivering wreck or a barking banshee. It’s never nice to see our companions in such stress but there are simple things that you can do to make it easier for them to cope with fireworks.

Plan ahead

Get your dog used to hearing firework noises at a low level and associate that noise with something positive. There are some great apps that you can get on your phone that play firework noises (Fireworks Touch is a good one that was recommended to me but there are several similar ones) or you can find videos of firework displays on YouTube. Start by playing them at a low level while you play with your dog, do some basic obedience training or at mealtimes. Pick something your dog enjoys & do it for a short period of time to start with. The aim here is for your dog to feel comfortable doing an activity whilst the sound of fireworks is happening at the same time. If your dog reacts in a nervous way then reduce the volume. Most importantly, you should not react in any way to the sound – your dog will look to you for direction so it’s important for it to be normalised as much as possible.

You can then repeat the exercise over the following days, slowly increasing the volume and also if possible, playing the sounds in different rooms and at different heights – you can play the sounds via a Bluetooth speaker if you have one. Ensure that the dog is comfortable and not reacting in a nervous way – you are wanting to build a positive association to the noise of the fireworks.

Signs of stress

Dogs show stress in many different ways, some more obvious than others. Watch out for pacing, whining, shaking, panting and barking. A dog may freeze or run and hide. Excessive drinking or washing/licking may also be a sign of stress. If you see any of these signs while working through the sound exercises, then you’ve gone too fast for your dog. Go back to where you were able to play the noises and the dog was still able to engage with you and then work at a slower pace to increase the volume. Don’t try to reassure an already stressed or nervous dog – it will just increase their stress levels.

On the night

Try to get any walks done before dark and ensure your garden is secure. Draw curtains in the house and keep the TV or radio on to muffle any noises outside. Apart from that, don’t behave any differently from any other evening. Remember, your dog will be looking to you for direction. If you start to behave in a different way to normal, your dog will find that unsettling. Remain as calm as possible.

Let your dog direct whether it wants your attention or not. Don’t invade its safe space, such as a bed or crate, if it wants to take itself off there then let it. If it comes to you for some attention then again, let it. The more you make everything a non-event, the more reassured the dog will be.

Ideally, with a very nervous dog with a history of reaction to fireworks, you will work through this process a number of weeks before firework season. It may be sensible to also repeat it at other times of year if you live somewhere where there are firework displays for New Year, religious festivals or during the peak of wedding season. It’s also an essential exercise to do with puppies – as you work through introducing those household noises that your puppy will hear, add fireworks to that list too.

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