Many dogs experience fear and anxiety with fireworks. When dogs are in an anxious state from the startling noise of fireworks, they may attempt to flee to escape the noise or become destructive thru digging, chewing or other negative behaviours. These destructive behaviours may put your dog at risk for injuries. When I was growing up, my dog was so scared of fireworks that she would bury herself in the dark corner of our laundry room, under piles of blankets and comforters. I didn’t know how to help her but luckily she didn’t become destructive to the point of hurting herself but many dogs do.
In regards to firework therapy, think about short-term management techniques as well as longer-term behaviour modification.
Reducing or eliminating your dog’s fears or fireworks takes time. However, there are immediate management actions you can do right away to reduce your dog’s anxiety.
1. Make sure your dog wears an ID tag with current information in case she flees in attempt to escape the noise.
2. Exercise your dog. If your dog is exhausted, she has less pent up energy in which to react to the startling noises.
3. Change the environment to muffle the fireworks. Close outside doors to reduce sound and close curtains or blinds to reduce any flashing light show.
4. Use canine calming signals such as yawning and licking your lips while sitting beside your dog. These actions are what dogs do to calm themselves or another dog and we can do our best to mimic the actions that they understand.
5. Consult with a veterinarian regarding mild tranquilizing medications that may assist on the few nights when fireworks are popular.
6. Try natural calming products such as Dog Appeasing Pheromones (DAP), Rescue Remedy, Calming Caps, Thundershirts and I've had great experience with Through a Dog's Ear music for Lucy's anxiety. While there is no guarantee that these products may work while your dog is in an acute state, they are natural so why not give them a try?
7. Set the scene yourself by being calm, relaxed and not fussing over your dog. Never, ever become angry at your dog or use verbal or physical punishment -- your dog is afraid and is not being disobedient. And remember that if your dog is afraid, support her in any way to help her make it through it all. Don't worry, if you comfort your dog, you will not make the fear worse.
8. Do not force your dog into an area where fireworks are being set off in attempt to flood them with the high intensity noise and "get over it". This repeated high exposure will simply increase his anxiety which can increase their need to flee and if he cannot escape, he may display aggressive behaviour such as growling, snapping and biting.
9. Use a crate, if they are crate trained, and line the crate with noise dampening blankets inside and out. If your dog is showing the need to move, do not crate them, and if you aren’t sure, do not lock the crate door so they have the option to leave.
10. You may try to put cotton or gauze pads in your dog’s ears but it will only reduce noise by about 7 dB. Noise reducing ear protection specifically designed for canines might be an option. Check out Mutt Muffs, which are ear protection specifically designed for canines (about $60 US and available online at www.safeandsoundpets.com).
11. Avoid parks, school yards and other public spaces where fireworks may be set off. On the real busy nights, if possible, take your dog and go as far away as possible from where fireworks may be set off. I know of one person who drives to the top of a mountain!
Reducing or Eliminating the Fear of Fireworks
For long term reduction or elimination of your dog’s fear, you want to use the behaviour modification techniques of desensitization and counter-conditioning. If your dog has a mild fear of fireworks, the elimination process will go faster and if your dog has a major phobia to fireworks, the process will take longer. Be patient and do not give up.
1. You need to have prerecorded firework sounds so you can be in control of the intensity. Check for cds online, try YouTube clips or record your own. Try www.f7sound.com or www.helpingfido.com. For your safety, do not use real fireworks with your dog as you want to be 100% focused on your dog as well as control the volume. Test the particular firework sounds, at a low level, with your dog to see if it is the same sound that creates mild anxiety.
2. Start a session by playing the fireworks sounds at a low volume (barely noticeable at first) at the same time that you are presenting your dog something he finds enjoyable, such as his all-time favorite food treat or toy. When the firework sounds stop, remove the food or toy. For maximum benefit, save this favorite food or toy for use during these sessions only and do not allow your dog to have access to them at any other times.
3. Wait about 2-5 minutes before increasing the intensity of the sound -- EVER SO SLIGHTLY. Do about 6 sets of 5 minutes each for a total of a single 30 minute session. Fireworks will slowly start to be associated with good things and that new association will reduce their old fears.
4. Repeat until your dog is able to handle “real-life” sound intensity. Then, start to introduce other factors; conduct sessions outside, in the dark, in different rooms in the house and when your dog is alone. Eventually, increase the time while you are out of the room until your dog can listen to a lot of fireworks, at high volume and while alone. Each time you change other factors, reduce the sound intensity for the first few repetitions and increase the sound gradually.
5. Do not rush this process and progress is completely dependent on your dog’s behaviour. If at anytime your dog shows the slightest anxiety, stop, reduce the intensity of the sound and stay at the reduced level for the next few five minute repetitions.
6. If your dog is exposed to real fireworks at a level above where you are at in the process, it may set back your progress. Simply reduce the volume in your next session and gradually increase. You may find that you will progress back to where you left off faster than your original progress.
7. If the process is not working, make adjustments. Perhaps the prerecorded firework sounds are not the same sounds that cause your dog’s anxiety or perhaps it’s a combination of fireworks, darkness and spooky trick or treaters that causes your dog’s anxiety.
These tips and behaviour modification techniques may not work for all dogs but as long as you’re respectful of your dog’s anxiety levels and do not use verbal or physical punishment, you can experiment with the above tips. If your dog exhibits signs of high anxiety such as extreme chewing at objects or herself, excessive barking or howling, excessive drooling or shaking or other severe negative changes in behaviour, it is best to contact a qualified professional trainer for assistance.
© 2010.Updated 2015. Michelle Sevigny, creator of Dogsafe Canine First Aid and former professional dog trainer. www.dogsafe.ca. Reprint permission granted with full copyright intact.
Photo by dadofliz