Tips for dogs on Bonfire Night: how to calm your dog during fireworks8 June 2023
Written by Dr. David Tweedle, BVetMed MRCVS Clinical Director
Reviewed by Dr Jill McMaster BVM&S MBA MRCVS, Veterinary Surgeon and in-house expert at BorrowMyDoggy on 9 Oct 2023
According to research by the RSPCA, 45% of dogs are scared of fireworks. So with Bonfire Night fast approaching, here are some top tips on how to help your dog have a less stressful time when the rockets start to go off.
The 5th of November is a time of celebration for many in the United Kingdom. For some, it's a time to enjoy watching a public fireworks display. For others, they might be hosting a fireworks party at home. But for dog owners, it can be a stressful night, as they try to calm their frightened pups. Fireworks are not only for one night a year either, with them being used in Diwali celebrations, at Christmas and on New Year. There are also a number of fireworks set off in the evenings in local parks as the nights get longer, so often we need to prepare our dogs for more than one night of bangs.
There are lots of top tips to support your dog, but one of the big ones, is not leaving them alone on Fireworks Night or any night you know is going to be noisy e.g. there is a local display on. That's where a trusted, local borrower can help.
Pawfessor Charles is giving us some top tips to help keep our dogs safe, calm and stress free this bonfire night. Take a look at his pawsome advice below:
Overview of this guide:
How to prepare before Bonfire Night
Don’t leave your dog alone in the house on Bonfire night, especially if you know they don’t like fireworks. If you are planning to go out, why not see if there are any BorrowMyDoggy borrowers nearby who could sit with your dog that evening. And be sure to have a chat with them on how they should act, should your dog start seeming anxious. To prepare for Bonfire night:
- Check out when the local firework displays are happening in your area so you know exactly when there is going to be any major disturbances.
- Leading up to Bonfire night (and as soon as possible!) try playing a soundtrack or video of fireworks quietly in the house, and build up the volume very slowly. Don't move to louder noises until your dog is ready. There are lots of free to use resources online that can provide examples of scary noises including fireworks. These sounds can familiarise your dogs with the noise and help to desensitise them before the fireworks start. When trying sound therapy, be sure you don’t over-react to anything your dog does. You can comfort them but don’t coddle them. Provide them a safe space to hide in too, if they are unsure. If they get distressed though, stop the sound training and give them a break until another day. See more information on sound training below.
- Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise on the day of Bonfire night so that they’re mentally and physically tired by the evening. It’s always good to keep them on the lead though, particularly if you live near a park or lots of people in your street are hosting Bonfire Night parties and letting off fireworks. Even if it’s not dark yet, be safe, as sometimes people can start a bit early!
- Create a safe place in your home for your doggy to retreat to if they get scared. This should be somewhere they feel safe and where they can find some quiet time and privacy. Don't get offended if they don't want to talk to you or play. Some pooches prefer to just hide away in their safe space until it's all over! Adapting their crate can be a great idea, or using a table, they comfortably fit under. Covering either with a heavy blanket, that comes down the side a little – and keep the door open of a crate so they can come and go as they please. The RSPCA video below shows how you can create a simple safe den for your pup.
- As always (but it’s even more important at fireworks time of year!) make sure your pup is wearing a collar with an ID tag, and that your microchip details are up to date. This is useful in case your pooch gets a fright and runs off.
How to calm your dog during fireworks
- Inside is better. Other than necessary toilet breaks, Bonfire night is a time for spending inside! That way, you’ll know your dog is safe. If they’re bored, why not play some mentally stimulating games.
- Feed your dog slightly earlier than usual, as if they start to feel anxious they might lose their appetite. Some studies show the benefit of a small amount of a carbohydrate based meal can be helpful to settle your pup before fireworks (as long as their tummy copes well with these carbs).
- Close all doors and windows leading outside, and close all your curtains to stop the sound and lights from the fireworks flashing through. If you do have to go outside, make sure you shut your dog in a different room before opening the front door.
- Turn your TV or radio up slightly louder than you would usually, to mask the sound of the fireworks. Or tune in to Pet Classics, the Classic FM show filled with classical music to help keep anxious pets calm.
- Keep your dog stimulated in the evening by playing with their favourite toys. You could also buy some new toys to get them excited or keep them entertained by filling a kong with their favourite treats. Interactive toys and puzzle feeders are a great way to keep your dog entertained and they can distract from the noises outside too!
- Try to behave as normally as possible around your dog. Remember, if you are acting strangely, they will too! Let your dog come to you and leave you as they please. If they want to cuddle, that’s fine. If they want to be alone, that’s also fine.
The important thing is to avoid smothering your dog – it might feel like the natural way of protecting them, but you don’t want to make them uncomfortable or reinforce any negative behaviour.
Consider a calming aid
Dr David Tweedle, My Family Pet Vet and Clinical Director at Natures Vet in Somerset, suggests trying a natural calming aid.
“Firework season might be a fun and exciting time for lots of people, but many dog owners dread it. Every year, social media is flooded with reports and videos of dogs who are terrified by the loud booms and bangs.
Although dog owners are powerless when it comes to stopping firework displays, there are measures you can take to help your dog deal with fireworks.
If your pet is scared of fireworks, and you need extra help when getting them to feel safe and calm, try a natural calming product.
If you’re unsure about calming products, medications and the like, it’s always worth having a chat with your vet.”
Use sound therapy
Sound therapy can be used to desensitise your dog to firework noises. Start off by playing firework sounds at a low volume and (as long as your dog isn’t distressed) gradually increase the volume and the amount of time they listen to it.
Take your time and be patient; if your pet shows any signs of distress, stop the noises for that day and start again the following day with a lower volume.
This therapy can be extremely effective in helping dogs to cope with the fear and anxiety that fireworks can bring. So, if your dog is struggling with fireworks, consider sound therapy as a way to help them feel more comfortable. If this process doesn’t work for your dog, discuss alternative or additional options with your vet, and consider working with a clinical animal behaviourist.
We hope these tips help. Always remember to remain as calm as possible around your dog when fireworks are going off and keep them as comfortable as you can. Stay safe and remember if you’re ever concerned always contact your local vet for advice.
This article is for information only, and should never replace any advice, diagnosis or treatment from your veterinary surgeon. Always contact your local vet or out of hours vet without delay if you have any concerns about your dog.
Guides on calming your dog
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