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Fireworks - tips to help minimse anxiety & fear reactions

Fireworks - tips to help minimse anxiety & fear reactions

Fireworks - tips to help minimse anxiety & fear reactions

Fireworks - to love or hate ?

What’s your first thought? I dread them – I never used to but now I have dogs!  Some of you may be lucky enough to have dogs that are used to them or aren’t bothered by them – I am not.

It is best to try and ensure your dog is de-sensitised from an early age but this needs to be done carefully to create a positive association. Unfortunately we didn't have this option with adopting dogs but its also worth noting dogs can become more sensitive as they get older so a sensitivity to fireworks can occur when they have previously been unaffected. 

Impact of fireworks 

Skye is petrified off them since a neighbour let some off that hit our house and exploded right near her. Studies show over 50% of cats and over 60 % of dogs shows signs of distress around fireworks and I believe with the increase in dog ownership – this will only increase.  Its not only the impact on pets but other animals like horses, cows and sheep –  not to mention wildlife like Birds and rabbits. They are also believed to have a negative effect on Bees.

We have tried lots of things with Skye – tips to reduce the anxiety cause by fireworks include playing with your dog to distract them and giving them chews as this action is relaxing in its very nature. But as soon as she hears one bang –  she shuts down and won’t engage at all or eat. That’s not to say it won’t work for many dogs. And if young dogs are happy to watch fireworks – reinforce this with treats and play at the same time to make it a positive experience.

Kenzo's first display of his ongoing anxiety was this time of year - he started to get fretful and stressed as the light goes down. I don’t believe this is a coincidence. He just wants to get home and I believe he wants to get home and in his safe place. He even refuses all treats – until we step in the door and then he's fine again. I believe he can sense the smells and changes in the environment. We always make sure we are home before any fireworks are likely to go off.  

Signs of stress 

These things are all signs that your dog is feeling stressed –

  • Trembling   
  • Tail between legs
  • Yawning  
  • Panting  
  • Licking lips 
  • Trying to hide under furniture 
  • Whining  
  • Barking  
  • Growling   
  • Restlessness 
  • Pacing 
  • Ears back 
  • Refusing food or engage

Natural methods to help 

Essential oils like valerian, chamomile, and lavender can help provide a homeopathic relief.  You can spray these onto a Bandana to help keep them calm or make treats and teas with them.

We also used a Valerian plug in several weeks before Bonfire night. We use this one by Pet Remedy . But there are lots of others. We also use Valerian Compound from Dorwest  which are fast acting drops which can be put directly into your dogs mouth or mix with a little Goats yoghurt if your dog will still take food.

Licking & Chewing are great ways that dogs naturally calm themselves down. I will give Skye & Kenzo a camomile tea, yoghurt and valerian drops mixed and spread onto a lickimat. But Skye will refuse any food or interaction once she hears a bang. If your dog will still eat - giving them a big chew or full feeding toy will not only tire them out but also help relax. 

Create a safe space.

We bought a den and fill it with snuggly blankets to make it cosy and covered it with a big throw to make it really dark. We have in the past made own our dens for them with pegging throws to shelves etc. Just create a cosy dark space for them to hide and feel safe in.

Reassurance and Massage

There is conflicting advice on reassuring a pet – some say this reinforces the anxious behaviour. I don’t subscribe to this theory. If my dogs are anxious I want to calm them with massage and stroking them and talking to them calmly but only if they want me too. If they retreat into the den then I don’t disturb them – They will come to me for reassurance if it will help. I try not to show them I am worried  about them and sometime that can be hard as they pace, yawn and pant. TTouch is a great massage technique to use with dogs and you can find out more about this online. 

Masking the noise 

White / brown noise from hoovers, tumble dryers etc can all help mask the noise of fireworks a bit. Closing curtains and windows can also mute the noise slightly. 

Classic FM play music to help and Taiko drums are also helpful as they are at the same frequency as bangs. But if your dog is senstive to bangs already these may not help and you need to build up desensitization. 

The DOGS TRUST website also have some great soundtracks you can use.  

You could even try noise cancelling headphones if wearing them doesn't cause your dog more anxiety and stress. We tried the sock over the ears but it was clear they weren't comfortable with this. 

Pressure - thunder jackets 

Thunder coats can help with stress from Fireworks and thunder storms. These work as the compression creates a feeling of security but also helps the dog regulate the breathing and lower the heart rate of anxious dogs. You will want to put these on early to allow the calming effect to kick in.

You can create the same effect with wrapping fabric around your dogs body as shown here on  Topdogtips website. 

What really works though?

There are lots of blogs and posts to give you more advice around reducing anxiety at this time of year but you really do need to start desensitising in the months before Bonfire night. 

What works for one dog will not necessarily work for another. Kenzo likes to be reassured and be close to us but Skye likes to go in the Den and hide by herself. We always try and get a big walk or run around in early in the day and also feed before it gets dark so we know there basic needs are sorted before any stress reactions. 

We actually now try to go an stay somewhere quite remote for Bonfire night but this isn't always possible - especially around New Years eve as accommodation is expensive. 

Should Fireworks be banned? 

I try not to get into debates about fireworks on social media as it makes me angry! But seeing as this is my Blog I feel I can give my opinion and appreciate not everyone will or has to agree with me! I have read articles about dogs being so scared they have heart attacks and that is just awful.

I am surprised that in the Health and Safety world we now live in that Fireworks are still openly available. They are small explosive charges and they cause damage and injury. Working in Emergency services as my day job - I have seen first hand the damage, both Physical and Psychological, that they can cause. 

However I don't think banning anything works. Its unpoliceable and people will find ways around it and potential make the fireworks louder and more dangerous as they wouldn't be regulated at all. There does need to be more control over who can buy them and how they are used. If the use was for one or two nights - its is bearable but its the fact they now go on for several weeks. I am pleased many supermarkets that now refuse to sell fireworks and hope more will follow. 

I do believe they should be restricted to organised planned displays to allow those who want to avoid they the chance to do so. There is no such thing as silent fireworks unfortunately but the sound they make can be reduced.

Until legislation is passed to restrict the sale we must do what ever we need to in order to keep our pets safe and comfy. I hope some of these tips and ideas are useful.