Preparing Dogs and Puppies for Fireworks Season:

Ripley: Photo Credit Joe Nutkins 2021

With October almost over we are racing towards Fireworks season which can be a stressful time for so many people and animals, and now is the time for dog owners to be preparing their young puppies for new fireworks experiences and for owners of dogs who have fears from fireworks to be helping their dogs through management and fore thinking. 

Fireworks tend to start much sooner then November 5th and putting in the preparation now can really help younger dogs have better experiences with the sounds, smells and sights from fireworks displays and back garden fireworks. Dogs with fears can progressively worsen each year, and even worsen each time more fireworks are heard nearby over several days leading to mental and physical stress for the dog, anguish for the owners and days if not weeks of recovering for the dog once they all finish. It’s also worth considering that with the CoVid guidelines there won’t be the big fireworks displays for people to go to so this could potentially cause more people to hold fireworks parties in their back gardens – so a usually quiet area to live could suddenly have fireworks for the first time. 

Puppies and Fireworks:

I have tips for puppy owners to introduce your pup to fireworks in advance and how to help prevent fireworks scaring them when they happen. There’s also info to help dogs feel comforted and secure when they already have a fear of Fireworks.

If this is your puppies first firework season we can prepare them as early as today with some training methods and then add to this with extra help once the fireworks are being heard closer to November. Let’s take a look at my top tips to prepare puppies:

* Download sounds apps on your phone, tablet or laptop so you can play all kinds of sounds around the house and garden including fireworks. Some apps also have fireworks displays with a wider range of sounds. Play the sounds at random times, starting with lower volume and gradually increase – have the tv or radio on as usual, interact with your dog as usual, play a game with them etc with the sounds on in the background. This helps makes the new sounds part of the background like the tv, radio, neighbours etc. 

* There will soon be adverts on the radio or tv that include fireworks sounds – if your puppy stops to listen try to ignore the sounds yourself and encourage your puppy to interact with you – interactive toys with treats inside, a game of tuggie or find the toy. By not highlighting that the sound is unusual you’re helping your puppy to view the fireworks sounds as normal.

* If you have found your puppy has been worried by other sounds such as thunder or loud traffic this may be an indication that the fireworks experience will be worrying for them too so consider walking your puppy before dark during October and the start of November to avoid sudden surprises of sounds, sights, and even the scent of the fireworks which can all stick in a puppy’s memory. 

* Prepare your Puppy by ensuring they have a nice cosy place to chill out when fireworks start such as a nice bed or covered crate that is away from windows or any open fireplaces where sound will travel better. Having a nice cosy safe space helps puppies to feel secure and not worry so much about a new experience.  

* If your puppy is nervous generally then now is a great time to start some additional help such as starting to give Bach Rescue Remedy in their water bowl, or spritzing Pet Remedy on their bed. These then build up in their system, naturally, to help ease fears without the side effects of medication. They do need a week or two to build up so start now! 

* Have some favourite toys nearby or prepare an interactive toy with favourite treats so as soon as you hear the first firework of the evening you can start a game with the toy or encourage your dog to use the interactive toy and find the treats and these help create a positive association to the fireworks.

Moving on to Adult Dogs: 

Every year dog trainers and behaviourists receive messages asking for help from dog owners who hear the first fireworks of the season and recall that their dog is worried about them so then seek help but it’s already too late In the year to be trying to help dogs change their behaviour; during the fearful experience dogs are stressed and unable to control their levels of dopamine and it can take days to adjust but of course we then have more and more fireworks causing dogs with fireworks fears to become more in need of a break from them, not adding to their stress by trying to work on the fear as well! 

We run Noise Fears Campaigns during June and July each year to try and encourage owners of dogs who are anxious around fireworks sounds to start looking at helping their dogs while there is less chance of extra fireworks being heard between training sessions and causing a dog to remain more stressed. Once we are passed the beginning  of September onwards the main approach for noise fearful dogs will be management over behaviour training. 

Here are some steps to create management to help dogs who are fearful of fireworks:

* Starting ASAP look at scent or holistic based products designed to promote calm, such as Bach Rescue Remedy, Pet Remedy, Zoopharmacognosy practitioners, even DAP diffusers! They all need a week or two of use to build up in a dogs system so don’t wait until you hear fireworks and then start using! 

* Create a safe space for your dog to retreat to as dogs naturally seek out den type areas when scared. This could be a crate with a cover over it, cosy bedding inside, or a table with a large blanket draped over and their bed under the table, or even open a cupboard or provide access to under a bed of these are areas your dog has wanted to get to previously. Finding a space they feel secure in means they can help themselves to stay more grounded and work through fears. Their safe space may be laying behind you on the sofa so they have contact with you!

* Look at foods known to help with calming such as Blueberries, Pumpkin Seeds, Whole Oats and even Beef which helps towards the body’s own production of cortisol! 

* Try an online canine massage session before fireworks start and you can use this to spend time with your dog, provide comfort and massage can help with anxiety.

Ripley and Merlin: Photo Credit Joe Nutkins

* Walk your dog during daylight where possible and it can be a good idea to use a harness as well as collar for any walks after dark and even in the garden as scared dogs when startled can bolt and this means they can easily reverse out of collars and harnesses too! Dogs do go missing during fireworks season where they panic. Also ensure your dog has an up to date ID tag on their collar / harness and that their microchip info is up to date with your contacts.

* If your dog loves to play you can try inviting them to play with you and a toy when you hear the first firework of the evening – it may be far enough away, or timed well enough with the play, that I’m your dogs Adrenalin can lift and help settle the fears and so a game while the fireworks take place can help in some cases but if your dog is too worried let them go to their safe space. 

* If your dog is really really stressed or your neighbour lets you know they are having fireworks on a set date it can be worth driving your dog to somewhere without fireworks; go away for the night, go out and visit a friend for the evening who doesn’t live in a built up area with back garden fireworks, if your dog likes being in the car just go for a drive with the radio on or listen to a podcast! This can help prevent the fear worsen more this season ready to commence actual training to help in the new year rather then your dog being stressed, shaking, drooling, digging, pacing etc for what could potentially be several hours. 

* There are also many products that can be useful for dogs with ingredients such as Valerian in and some help dogs more then others but it can be very individual. I can recommend looking at Dorwest Herbs who have Fireworks advice, DAP Diffusers, Woof & Brew Anxious Hound tincture, and many companies have fireworks fears packages with things like tinctures, wax melts, calming body mist and more. 

Helping your dog through the next few weeks will help your dog for the future and if you find your dog is very anxious or stressed while experiencing fireworks there is a lot of help for this and behaviour work can be started in January or February to give your dog many months to work through their training ready for next years fireworks season! 

Joe Nutkins 

Joe Nutkins runs Dog Training for Essex & Suffolk; Pet Dog Training In Person and Online.

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