Dealing with distress from firework noise

Bonfire Night is fast approaching and is an exciting time for adults and children alike. Unfortunately this is rarely so for our four-legged companions and is actually a time of fear and distress. This week’s article hopes to help you reduce the negative effects.

In a recent study, 45 per cent of dogs showed fearful behaviour when they heard loud noises. Older dogs are more likely to show fear and no breed was more likely to be afraid. Interestingly, dogs born in autumn and winter were less likely to act fearfully to loud noises, suggesting that being exposed to these from an early age can reduce fear in later life.

Owners need to identify if their dog is truly frightened of fireworks. Common behaviour is trembling and shaking, barking and attempting to hide. Other dogs show behaviour such as whining, seeking human company, running randomly and destructive behaviour.

So what can we do to reassure our pets? Prior to the bonfire period, we recommend starting de-sensitising your pet. This means exposing them to these loud noises so it learns to not associate them with a negative experience.

Use a video or recording of fireworks. Initially, start playing it on very low volume several times a day, while engaging your pet in a pleasurable activity, such as playing, meals or treats. As time goes on slowly increase the volume, reducing it if at any time he seems fearful. Repeat this over several weeks until your pet can tolerate the sounds without any signs of fear.

Do not be tempted to ‘baby’ your dogs if they show fear.

Contrary to belief, reassuring and cuddling your dog does not help to reduce their anxiety, but confirms to them that there’s something to be worried about. Instead, don’t change your behaviour or respond to the fireworks in any way. By not reacting, you are letting your pet know that there’s no need to be afraid.

During the fireworks, attempt to drown out the sound.

Try turning up the television or radio and keep the windows closed to dampen down the noise.

If your dog needs to hide, let him. Create a safe den so he has somewhere secure to resort to. Don’t try pulling him out of this zone or try to force him to listen to the fireworks. This will increase his fear and could push him into aggression.

Finally, if this does not succeed, bring your pet in and have a chat with one of our vets. There is prescription anti-anxiety and natural calming medication available.

By Leanne Roberts, Vet