The lead up to any celebration with fireworks, such as New Years Eve and particular Bonfire Night, can be a very traumatic time for many dogs. The loud bangs and flashes created by fireworks are often very frightening for them, making them stressed and unpredictable, potentially putting their safety at risk.
With around 40% of the UK's dogs being scared of fireworks, many owners often need to plan ahead and take steps to help keep their dog calm and safe.
Why do fireworks scare dogs?
Fireworks can be frightening to dogs because of the loud bangs, the flashing lights and unpleasant strong smell of spent explosives. With multiple bangs occurring from numerous displays, dogs will rarely be able to pinpoint where the booming explosions are coming from. Not knowing what an explosion is, where it’s coming from, or where and when the next one is going to be must be truly terrifying for some dogs.
Noise aversion can also be influenced by breed, age and sex. Even the way your dog reacts to loud sounds could be partly controlled by their genetics, with research showing that German Shepherd Dogs are more likely to pace when stressed, while Border Collies and Australian Cattle Dogs are more likely to hide.
Are fireworks too loud for dogs?
Can dogs be traumatized by fireworks?
It’s natural for a dog to be wary of loud noises, particularly if they don’t know what the noise is, or where it’s coming from. Evolution has hard-wired dogs with incredible survival instincts, and loud unexpected noises can trigger a fight-or-flight response. Your dog’s reaction to loud noises is largely determined by their personality and past experiences. If your dog was scared by fireworks once, then chances are, they will remember it and be scared again.
How to prepare your dog for fireworks
In the weeks leading up to 'fireworks season' you can help your dog become used to loud noises by acclimatising them to the sound of fireworks. There are many noise CDs on the market, or plenty of downloadable content which can give you the opportunity to introduce your dog to a variety of potentially disturbing noises in a controlled manner.
Warning: If your pet is severely noise phobic, sound CDs may make the situation worse and it may be a good idea to speak to an experienced animal behaviourist. Kennel Club Accredited Instructors are experienced in different aspects of dog training and behaviour.
Check your microchipping details
Early October is a particularly good time of year to make sure that your dog's microchip details are up to date and that they are wearing a collar and ID tag. If you think there's going to be fireworks going off near you and you know your microchip details are not up-to-date its important to get them corrected as soon as possible.
Dogs can react very badly to the unfamiliar sights and sounds of fireworks and statistics show that in previous years there has been a rise in calls to the Petlog lost pet line at the end of October and beginning of November. It can never be stressed enough how important it is to make sure your details are kept up to date. Currently 53% of microchips have incorrect owner details, meaning that if a pet goes missing many dogs may not be able to be returned to their owners.
For more information on microchipping, visit Petlog.
Do your research
Check where and when fireworks displays are being held in your local area, so that you know when to expect fireworks. Also ask your neighbours to let you know if they are planning any unofficial displays of their own to help you prepare.
Before the fireworks begin - helping your dog cope
- Top up your dog’s water bowl. Anxious dogs pant more and get thirsty
- Feed your dog a while before you expect any disturbances. Once the fireworks start, your dog may be too anxious to eat
- Walk your dog before dusk. It may be some time before it’s safe to venture outside again for your dog to relieve themselves. Always make sure that your garden is escape proof, just in case a firework goes off when you take them into the garden to go to the toilet
- Make sure you shut all doors and windows in your home and don’t forget to draw the curtains. This will block out any scary flashes of light and reduce the noise level of fireworks. Don’t forget to block off cat flaps to stop dogs (and cats) escaping
- Make a safe den for your dog to retreat to if they feel scared. Make sure to fill it with their favourite blankets, toys, or an item of unwashed clothing, as these may help them feel safe
How do I calm my dogs down during fireworks?
- Distract your dog from the noise by having the TV or the radio switched on
- Try to act and behave as normal, as your dog will pick up on any odd behaviour. Remain calm, happy and cheerful as this will send positive signals to your dog
- Your dog might choose to hide under the bed or behind furniture; if they come to you for comfort, make sure that you give it to them. Ignoring your dog would only make things worse as they wouldn’t understand your withdrawal from them
- Always reward calm behaviour with dog treats or playing
- Never try to force your dog to face their fears – they’ll just become more frightened
- Never try and tempt them out if they do retreat, as this may cause more stress
- Never tell your dog off. This will only make your pet more distressed. It is important to remember that it is natural for a dog to be scared of loud noises and unfamiliar sights and sounds
- If you need to open the front door, shut your dog safely inside a room first
Can dogs go to fireworks displays?
Also, never tie your dog up outside while fireworks are being let off
What can I give my dog for fireworks anxiety?
Tried everything? Ask for help from a behaviourist
We recommend speaking to a dog behaviourist in your area about any potential behavioural issues that may arise around this time of year, as they are experts in the field. They can offer invaluable advice which will help to safeguard the health and happiness of your dog and make sure their experience of Bonfire Night is as positive as possible.
Think your dog may be affected?
If you're worried about your dog's health, always contact your vet immediately!
We're not a veterinary organisation and so we can't give veterinary advice, but if you're worried about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact your local vet practice for further information.
Find a vet near you
If you're looking for a vet practice near you why not visit the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons' Find a vet page.