Fireworks night and dogs

While fireworks are great fun for us as humans, they can be extremely frightening for our household pets - including our dogs. In a lot of cases dogs and fireworks simply do not mix and if your dog is afraid of fireworks, the party season can be a very stressful time with flashes and loud bangs happening without warning.

There are a few things that you do ahead of and during the fireworks season to help keep any dogs afraid of fireworks calmer and less stressed while others are enjoying the festivities.

Go straight to our advice on how to help your dog.

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.

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Are fireworks too loud for dogs?

Dogs are renowned for having an incredible sense of smell, but their hearing is remarkable too. Dogs can hear sounds that are four times further away than we can, and they can also detect significantly higher frequencies. A dog’s acute sense of hearing means that loud noises that are tolerable to us might be uncomfortable and unpleasant to them.

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.

Start getting your dog used to sudden loud noises

Getting your dog used to loud and sudden noises can make them more relaxed and less reactive when the fireworks outside get going. There’s a good range of CDs and playlists of fireworks, storms, and loud noises available, and playing these can really help your dog desensitise to the noise.

Start by playing the sounds at a low volume, and as your dog gets used to it you can slowly increase the volume over a period of time so that they become used to the noise. This can work especially well with young dogs and puppies, and can let you nip any problems in the bud before they even arise.

Noise aversion can be influenced, to some degree, 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.

Check your microchipping details

Think about keeping your dog safe when out and about. Fireworks can catch us all unawares, and can be let off literally at any time of the day or night. If you know that your dog is scared of fireworks then you should always walk them on a lead - even if they’re used to being walked off lead.

If a firework goes off when your dog is away from you and off lead, then this could cause them to panic and to bolt for wherever they feel safest. By keeping your dog on the lead you can make sure that if this happens they will feel reassured that you’re nearby, and it will reduce the risk of them bolting where they could end up on a busy road or railway.

Make sure that your dog's microchip details are up to date and that they are wearing a collar and ID tag. 
Dogs can react very badly to the unfamiliar sights and sounds of fireworks. 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 per cent 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.

Simple things can help around your home

While the fireworks are happening outside, it can help to have the TV or radio on to make the firework noise less obvious. Closing curtains and doors can also help reduce the likelihood of your dog seeing the flashes from the fireworks being let off.

You should try to behave as normally as possible around your dog, as they are more likely to feel safe and secure if you seem unbothered and don’t react. If they come to you seeking comfort, then you should respond to them in a calm and soothing way and shouldn’t ignore them.

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.

How to prepare your dog for fireworks in advance

In the weeks or even months 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, plenty of downloadable content or you could try playing our Spotify playlist (see below) to introduce your dog to these sounds in a controlled way.

Warning: If your pet is severely noise phobic, sound CDs or playlists 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.

Listen to sounds of fireworks

It's important that you don't play these sounds loudly to your dog straight away. Getting your dog used to the noise of fireworks will take time and patience, so please follow our guidance in the tab below.

Advice on how to use this playlist
How can I help my dog not be scared of fireworks (known as desensitisation)?
  • Play our Spotify fireworks playlist (see above), find other downloadable content or purchase a CD of firework sounds
  • Settle your dog in a quiet room where you won’t be disturbed. Ideally somewhere your dog feels safe.
  • Start by playing the firework noises very quietly. The first time you do this it should be so quiet that you can only just hear it. This shouldn’t cause your dog any distress.
  • If at any point your dog shows signs of stress, such as panting, licking their lips, pacing or pinning their ears back, then stop and consider contacting a Kennel Club Accredited Instructor for advice
  • While the noises play, give them treats, play with them and give them lots of positive attention. Over time you want your dog to begin to associate the noise of the fireworks with something positive.
  • Play the noises for just a few minutes at a time and then stop and do something different in another room.
  • Repeat this, either several times a day for at least a couple of weeks, or several times a week for several months. This process can’t be rushed and the more time you give your dog time to get used to these noises, the better.
  • Each time you play the noises, turn up the volume a little. If your dog doesn’t seem happy then stop the noises straight away. If this happens, it’s possible that you may be progressing too quickly for them, so try it a little quieter again next time.
  • Even once your dog is comfortable with the noises on your playlist, it’s possible that hearing real fireworks might still be stressful. During fireworks it’s important to try to keep your dog feeling safe and relaxed and to distract them with something positive, such as a treat, a game or plenty of affection. Find out more on how to keep your dog calm during fireworks.

Before the fireworks begin - helping your dog cope

  • Top up your dog’s water bowl. Anxious dogs pant more and become 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 for your dog to venture outside and 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. You could drape a thick duvet over the top of it to make it more sound proof, but make sure that the duvet is secure and can't fall on to your dog. Fill the den with their favourite blankets, toys, or an item of unwashed clothing to help them feel more secure.
  • If your dog has been very scared of fireworks before then talk to your vet about possible medications or products that can help reduce your dog's anxiety.

How do I calm my dogs down during fireworks?

  • Distract your dog from the noise by having the TV or the radio switched on. If you're going to play music loudly, then make sure it's music that you're dog is familiar with and has heard you play before. You don't want your dog to link their fear of fireworks with a new type of music.
  • 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?

Never take your dog to a firework display, even if your dog does not bark or whimper, don’t assume they're happy. Excessive yawning and panting can indicate that your dog is stressed

Also, never tie your dog up outside while fireworks are being let off

What can I give to calm my dog for fireworks anxiety?

If you’ve previously tried everything and your dog is still stressed then speak to your vet. They may be able to suggest a medication that helps keep your dog calmer. If you're considering giving your dog any remedies or medications to help them cope with stress, then always speak to your vet first, especially if they have any health problems, or are taking any medication, and always follow the manufacturers' instructions.

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.

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