What's the big deal?
Imagine this. You live in a different country, you’re entirely dependent on someone else, and you can only communicate through sign language which is often misunderstood.
One night you hear gunshots, and strangers outside, your home is vibrating, there are flashing lights and you can smell burning. You think your life is at risk but you’re trapped. How do you feel? This is how many dogs experience fireworks
Will comforting my dog make it worse?
Fear can’t be rewarded or punished because it’s an emotion, an involuntary physiological response that ensures survival, it’s not a behaviour.
Think of something you’re fearful of; it could be spiders, snakes, heights, or the loss of something important. Now imagine when you show this fear, someone shouts at you and tells you to stop shouting/crying/shaking. Did that make you feel better or worse? How about if someone puts their arm around you or gives you £500? Are you now more afraid than ever or do you feel slightly better?
Comforting your dog doesn’t always make a visible difference, but it won’t make things worse.
Ways to help them through it
Walk your dog early and go for a nice long sniff rather than chasing. Sniffing produces calming chemicals in the brain whereas adrenaline takes time to recover from making it harder for them to relax
Create a den, small spaces feel more secure than big ones. Close curtains, put a blanket over a crate or a table, and give them somewhere to hide.
Play music. Sound affects the nervous system of dogs just as it does in humans. Compare how frazzled you feel when you have building work next door compared to listening to your favourite music. Check out ‘Through a Dog’s Ear’, a series of music specifically designed to calm dogs
If you’ve got hard floors, put rugs down to insulate against vibration
Prepare chews and stuffed Kongs in advance. Chewing and licking are soothing, calming activities for dogs.
Be a calm, reassuring presence but at the same time, try to act normal. Dogs are extremely perceptive and if you appear more vigilant than usual, they find it harder to relax.
If you have a puppy, invite them to engage in a bit of gentle play. Play builds confidence and is incompatible with fear.
Different things help different dogs. Thundershirts can help some dogs feel more secure. Adaptil (a synthetic version of mother’s pheromones) or Pet Remedy spray (plant-based) can help by stimulating calming chemicals in the brain.
Speak to your vet about calming products specifically designed for noise sensitivity. Some sedatives will make things worse because they remove the dog’s ability to respond, but not the fear, making them feel powerless
Keep your dog on a lead or long line for a few days after the fireworks. Stress hormones take time to leave the body so they may be more prone to spooking and running off. Lots of dogs go missing at this time of year.
For a longer-term solution, ask for help with desensitising your dog to loud noises. This needs to be done very gradually so don’t start this on the 1st of November!