Every year, a symphony of booming fireworks and vibrant celebrations lights up the sky on various occasions and holidays. From the explosive Fourth of July festivities in the United States to the globally recognized New Year’s Eve extravaganzas, and the dazzling Fireworks Night (also known as Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night) in the UK, our calendars are peppered with moments that delight and amaze us.
As humans, we revel in the magic and wonder of these explosive displays, but for our beloved canine companions, these celebrations can be the source of deep distress. Imagine for a moment the world through their heightened senses, where the air is filled with the deafening crescendo of fireworks, loud noises, and bustling parties. These experiences can be overwhelming for our dogs!
Whether you’re commemorating the Fourth of July, bracing for the dazzling New Year’s Eve festivities, or participating in Bonfire Night celebrations, at AbsoluteDogs we want to help all dogs and their owners stay calm and comfortable during these vibrant but challenging times.
In this blog, we’re bringing you 7 super strategies to help you take the fear out of fireworks and create a calmer and more enjoyable experience for your dog.
How Do I Know If My Dog Is Fearful of Fireworks?
Before we dive into the strategies for coping with fireworks it’s essential to recognise signs that indicate your dog is worried or struggles with a fear or phobia of fireworks.
These signs manifest in emotional, physiological, and behavioural responses. Watch out for behaviours such as restlessness, panting, trembling, hiding, barking, and scratching at doors. Understanding your dog’s reactions will help you tailor your support to their specific needs.
Download the FREE AbsoluteDogs Taking the Fear Out of Fireworks eBook to learn more about how you can help your dog overcome their fear of fireworks.
Why Is My Dog Scared Of Fireworks?
It’s important to understand why dogs and fireworks are not a good mix and why your dog might be fearful of fireworks.
Fireworks are loud and extremely novel. Your dog has a more acute sense of hearing than you, so those loud booms, crackles and whistles are extremely alarming.
They are also unpredictable. You may expect fireworks on holidays like the Fourth of July, Bonfire Night or New Year’s Eve, but for your dog, it’s just another day.
Those firecrackers come without warning. The loud noises and flashing lights sound and look different each time. Plus, they come at random intervals, so your dog can’t get used to them, nor should they have to!
That noise and unpredictability of fireworks leads your dog to perceive them as a threat. This triggers their fight-or-flight response. Your dog may bark at the noises or try to run away and hide. They may display other signs of anxiety such as restlessness, panting, pacing and whining.
On holidays such as Independence Day or Bonfire Night, the fear may ignite their flight response, urging them to run from the perceived threat. However, indoors, they remain captive to the resonating booms, making them feel trapped and anxious.
But fear not, for there are ways to ease their distress during these dazzling yet distressing events!
Surviving Fireworks Season With Your Dog Strategy #1: Beware the Stress Bucket!
Fireworks stress in dogs and pets is a huge concern, so the first strategy we have to help you survive fireworks season with your dog is to make sure you are aware of your dog’s stress levels before the season even begins.
Every dog has a “stress bucket,” which represents their stress threshold. Various factors, both positive (exciting things) and negative (scary things), contribute to filling this bucket.
To help your dog cope with fireworks, it’s crucial to be aware of their stress bucket’s size, natural state, and the fun and frightening factors that fill it, so that you can take steps to help them empty their bucket and give them the best chance at keeping their stress levels low during fireworks season.
Learn more about The Bucket in this podcast episode!
Surviving Fireworks Season With Your Dog Strategy #2: Empty the Stress Bucket!
The second strategy we have to help you survive fireworks season with your dog is to empty their stress bucket by cultivating calmness and optimism, two key concepts for helping your dog cope with fireworks.
Dogs who struggle with fear and reactivity tend to be constantly alert and find it difficult to switch off. Teaching your dog to be calm and optimistic can make a significant difference.
You can achieve this through passive calming activities, the Calmness Protocol, and active rest.
Passive Calming Activities are activities your dog can enjoy which are naturally soothing. The activity itself encourages calmness. Think scatter feeding, snuffle toys and mats, filled Kongs, lick mats and long-lasting chews, puzzle feeders and scenting/sniffing out hidden food.
The Calmness Protocol is time where you actively reward spontaneous moments of calmness, using your dog’s daily food allowance to put all of that tasty value into spontaneous moments of calm. That might be times when your dog chooses to rest on the bed or floor, takes deep breaths and relaxing sighs or offers moments of stillness (especially those for the busy types)!
Active Rest is all about giving your dog some time every day where they don’t need to make any choices and their only option is to rest. Making sure they have time to chill out somewhere they aren’t exposed to the happenings of the day is really important for allowing that stress bucket to empty. Perhaps for your dog that is a crate, a dog pen, a boundary or a dog-safe room.
By promoting calmness, you help your dog find value in relaxation, rather than reacting. We like to call this The Calmness Triad and we dive deeper on it in this video!
Surviving Fireworks Season With Your Dog Strategy #3: Positive Pairing
The third strategy we have to help you survive fireworks season with your dog is to create positive pairings with all noises (not just the scary ones)!
Positive Pairing, or what we like to call DMT or “Distraction. Mark. Treat”, is a technique that can transform your dog’s emotional response from anxious to confident during loud and startling events. It’s all about rewarding calm behaviour to help your dog associate those scary sounds with positive experiences.
To begin with, you will start working with noises you know your dog isn’t worried about to build up a positive association with their new, calmly delivered marker word like “Niiice” or “Goood”.
Mark anything and everything that makes a sound and deliver a piece of food calmly to your dog. Really build up that value so your dog understands that good things are headed their way when they hear that marker.
As your dog becomes more confident, you can start introducing more distracting or worrying noises at low volume, until you work up over time to the real deal. When a loud noise, like fireworks or thunder, occurs, acknowledge it calmly. Your dog will take cues from your reaction.
Learn more about DMT in the AbsoluteDogs Optimism Rocks eBook!
Surviving Fireworks Season With Your Dog Strategy #4: Train FOR The Situation With Games!
The fourth strategy we have to help you survive fireworks season with your dog is to train FOR the situation, not in it, by playing 3 minute training games with your dog ahead of time to boost their confidence, optimism and calmness.
Our favourite novelty-busting, optimism-growing, confidence-boosting and calmness-inspiring games to play with all dogs are:
✔ Scatter Feeding
✔ Cardboard Chaos
We’ve got some FREE resources linked above, but if you truly wish to set your dog up for superhero level confidence and rock-solid optimism, there is no better place to look than our AbsoluteDogs Confidence course!
Surviving Fireworks Season With Your Dog Strategy #5: Prepare a Fireworks Free Zen Space
When it comes to fireworks safety for dogs, the fifth strategy we have to help you survive fireworks season with your dog is to create a designated safe space for your dog to retreat to during fireworks.
This space should be cosy, quiet, and free from the noise and flashing lights of the fireworks. Close all curtains, blinds, doors and windows well before the fireworks begin and pop a loud movie on TV, play some white noise or even Taiko Drums to drown out the whizzes and bangs of the fireworks!
Your dog’s safe zone should be a place where they can feel secure and relaxed, allowing them to escape the stress, sights and sounds of the outside world.
Get your dog used to spending time in their safe zone, including playing the sounds you will use to drown out the fireworks well before a night of fireworks comes around. This will help your dog feel more comfortable and relaxed as they won’t feel the novelty or pressure of experiencing the space for the first time once the fireworks begin.
Learn more about preparing your dog for Fireworks Night, Fourth of July Celebrations, New Years Eve, Bonfire Night or any other fireworks season event by listening in to our podcast episode: Fireworks VS Your Dog: Helpful Hacks for Noise Sensitivity
Surviving Fireworks Season With Your Dog Strategy #6: Provide Calming Enrichment!
As an essential part of coping with dogs and fireworks, the sixth strategy we have to help you survive fireworks season with your dog is to prepare lots of tasty, calming enrichment activities in advance to give your dog in their zen space as the fireworks are happening – and in the days leading up to the events to help your dog keep their bucket as empty as possible.
Enrichment activities are extremely powerful in helping your dog achieve a calm, zen state because they can trigger the release of dopamine in your dog’s brain! Dopamine is often referred to as the “happy chemical,” and it plays a significant role in regulating feelings of happiness and relaxation.
Enrichment activities help with emotional regulation, as the act of licking or engaging with the mat can soothe your dog and help them cope with stressful situations.
Enrichment activities also provide mental stimulation and keep your dog mentally engaged and prevent boredom, which can lead to anxiety.
Physical relaxation is another benefit of enrichment activities, especially if it involves licking, as the repetitive motion can have a calming effect on our dogs, similar to meditation in humans, reducing stress levels.
So before Bonfire Night and all through the fireworks season, have lots of calming snacks to hand, such as filled bones, lick mats, stuffed Kongs, and long-lasting chews, snuffle mats, puzzle toys and more – and for an extra layer of relaxation time, you can freeze enrichment toys that have food spread on or stuffed in them too!
Want to learn more about enrichment activities for your dog? Check out our Ditch the Bowl course, full of recipes, how to’s and so much more!
Surviving Fireworks Season With Your Dog Strategy #7: Prep For Success!
The seventh super strategy we have to help you survive fireworks season with your dog is to be well-prepared for any situation that might arise during this potentially frightening time with these dog-friendly fireworks tips. Fireworks can be incredibly distressing for dogs, so it’s crucial to have a plan in place.
First and foremost, don’t leave your dogs alone during the fireworks display if possible. Your presence can offer comfort and reassurance during this frightful time. Ensure that your dogs are safely indoors, away from the noise and lights of the fireworks. Secure all doors and windows, and close blinds and curtains to minimise the impact of noise and flashes.
But it’s not just about being present; it’s about having a strategy in case your dogs become extremely anxious or panicked. Having a well-thought-out plan can make all the difference, providing a sense of security for both you and your dog.
Don’t forget to ensure your dogs have proper identification, including collars with tags and updated microchip information. This precaution is essential in case they become scared and attempt to escape.
By implementing the strategies we’ve shared with you in this blog, you will be well on your way to helping your dog take the fear out of fireworks for good!
By following these guidelines, you’ll be better equipped to support your dog and provide them with a sense of calmness and optimism during this fireworks season and many more to come!
Remember, your dog’s well-being is a top priority, and these strategies can make a world of difference in their experience of fireworks season.
For even more information on how you can set your dog up for success during the festive fireworks season and beyond, check out other entries in our AbsoluteDogs Blog, listen in on the Sexier than a Squirrel Podcast, or dive into the videos over on our YouTube Channel.
Make sure you share, share, share these strategies with all the dog-lovers you know so we can reach out and help as many dogs and owners as possible this fireworks season!
Don’t forget, whatever your dog training struggle, we’ve got you covered! With training, strategies, dedicated courses and more, it’s all waiting for you over in the AbsoluteDogs Games Club – it’s dog training gamified!