As the year draws to an end, we all know what this means! Fire works season is coming! And despite the state Government making it quite clear that public fire works displays will not go ahead this year due to COVID, we all know that it will not stop the amateurs giving the fire crackers a good go.
For some dogs, fireworks are no different to any regular noise that goes on in the background, in fact some even enjoy watching them. But I know that the vast majority of dogs are terrified, especially those that already suffer from anxiety.
Dog pounds and shelters are often inundated on New Year’s Day, with dogs that escaped only hours earlier when they were panicking over the fireworks they saw and heard. There have been discussions in the past year, amongst local governments, to display laser light shows instead of fireworks so hopefully that will be easier for our more sensitive dogs in years to come.
Who are the most vulnerable dogs?
- Dogs that already suffer from situational anxiety
- Dogs that suffer from noise phobia
- Dogs that suffer from generalised anxiety
- Dogs that suffer from neophobia (fear of the new)
- Puppies under 4 months of age (they go through multiple fear/sensitive stages in this period)
- Adolescent dogs between 6-9 months of age (they go through another sensitive stage as puberty kicks in)
- Young adult dogs between 12-18 months of age (they go through their final sensitive stage as they approach social maturity)
If you have identified that the dogs mentioned above live in your home, then these dogs are more likely to struggle with the onset of fireworks season.
For the already established anxious dogs, fireworks can trigger their anxiety further and for the younger and developing dogs, these scary and unpredictable events can initiate anxieties later on. No matter which category your dog falls under, there are some things we can put in place to alleviate the stress as much as possible.
How do you know if your dog is not coping?
If your dog is not coping with the onset of fireworks season, there are some behaviours that will be pretty apparent and some will be more subtle. Below are some signs to watch out for.
- Pacing, unable to settle in the house or yard, appearing frantic
- Hyperventilating, panting a lot more than usual
- Hypersalivating, drooling or frothing at the mouth
- Refusing to eat regular food or treats
- Shaking or shivering
- Shake offs, like a wet dog, where you see lots over a short period of time
- Yawning, where you see a lot more over a short period of time and out of context (not bed time)
- Refusing to go outside where it normally would have no issue
- Trying to hide in odd spaces, under a table, in a wardrobe, under a bed
- Trying to escape the home, trying to jump the fence or break through it, trying to break through a window
- Climbing on you desperately, seeking comfort
- Suddenly toileting inside the house, where it would normally be fully toilet trained
- Looking up at the sky and barking
- Barking frantically when it hears the sounds of fireworks in the distance
- Grumbling, growling or whining when it hears the sound of fireworks in the distance
Options for New Year’s Eve
- If this is your dog’s very first NYE, I highly recommend you stay at home with your dog so you can be there to support it if you notice the dog is fretting. Your dog might not even notice, however it is better to be there just in case, rather than come home to a dog that has scaled a fence out of sheer terror or shredded the house whilst in a frantic state!
- If this is not possible, maybe consider getting someone to pet sit your dog while you are out. Some people are happy to watch NYE go by on TV or not even bother and this could just suit your dog
- If you know your dog already hates fireworks, you already know what your dog is capable of when it is terrified, however you might still find some handy tips in this post that you had not thought about before
- Try to keep your dog inside the house, blinds drawn so it cannot see the sky light up, the visual aspect can be terrifying for dogs. A laundry or a bedroom is often a good place and don’t forget to close the dog flap if your dog is in the laundry with outside access
- Ensure your dog has a safe space to go to if it still feels a little stressed at the sound of the fireworks. Leaving a walk in robe or closet open is handy as they like to squeeze into tight spaces. Some prefer to crawl under a table or bed or into their safe crate. We just need to ensure it has somewhere to go to seek comfort
- Try to play back some classical music to soothe your dog during the night leading up to midnight. Don’t forget to mute the volume on your TV when the countdown to midnight begins as the sound of fireworks on the TV is very real and your dog might think the fireworks are popping off in your lounge room! The classical music can mute out of muffle the background noise of fireworks going off outside.
- Consider giving your dog Zylkene, a natural supplement that can help during stressful events. This product can be bought from pet stores, online, your vet clinic and at our centre. It is not a medication, it is a milk protein that has the ability to settle dogs down. I would recommend giving double the recommended dose a couple days leading up to New Year’s Eve and for a couple days after
- If your dog is already under the care of a Veterinary Behaviourist for anxiety related disorders, I recommend you get in touch leading up to the last week of December, to review medication doses and discuss whether your dog may need more for that week. It is important you are supported throughout this period and you are well prepared
- If your dog is being looked after by a pet sitter, ensure you have made your requests clear in regards to how they are to be managed on the night as the pet sitter might not be aware how stressed your dog becomes
- Please avoid considering taking your dog down to a fireworks display to count down the year; it just isn’t worth the risk
What about desensitisation??
Whilst playing back the sounds of fireworks in the background might give your dog some exposure to the sound effects, it unfortunately does not provide it with the visual aspect.
You can download apps on your phone that have fireworks and fire cracker noises and play them gently, on low volume, inside your home. Ensure your dog is calm and settled and give it some treats whilst hearing the noises to create a more positive association towards the noise. Gradually increase the volume over a period of a few days to weeks but only increase the volume when you can see your dog remains in a very settled state.
If your dog becomes aroused, anxious, stops eating treats or reacts, then this is telling you that your dog has gone over threshold. What does this mean? It means you have jumped too many steps forward too quickly and need to ease back a bit until it resettles.
Over time you want to bring the volume up so that it sounds like there are fireworks in your house.
Please note that whilst this may desensitive your dog to the sounds of fireworks, it does not guarantee it will not respond when it might see AND hear the real deal! I think it is always wiser to play it safe and follow the preventative steps mentioned above.
What about the dogs that don’t care?
If you are lucky enough to have one of those dogs that just don’t care what goes on around them or above them, then you should be fine to head out and not worry about your dog. We don’t see them very often but they do exist and these dogs just cruise through life with very little stress. Sadly more and more have anxiety and panic disorders so unless you already know your dog has seen fireworks and has not even blinked an eye, please stick with the suggestions mentioned above.
Do dogs get used to fireworks if they are already a bit sensitive to them?
Because fireworks are so unpredictable, it is really hard for a dog to just get used to them and in fact if your dog has already gotten a little scared the first time it heard them, chances are this will get worse and worse each year. It is the randomness of them that freaks dogs out the most as they have little to no time to prepare for them and quite often are caught totally off guard, sending their emotions and senses into a frazzle.
If you have noticed that your dog seems to be aware of fireworks where you can see it is visibly not coping, then speak to your local GP Vet or consider seeing a Veterinary Behaviorist for future ongoing support.
I hope this blog helps you create your New Year’s Eve plan for your dog so that everyone starts the new year with joy!
All the best everyone, we look forward to 2021!