Animals cannot comprehend that fireworks are a (generally) harmless experience. To them, it is a very dangerous scenario that requires fight or flight.
Their brains have not yet been convinced that they are domesticated and safe in their houses or condos, and they feel they need to find safety and shelter.
- 63% of dogs with separation-related anxiety have noise phobias and
- 53% of dogs with separation-related anxiety have storm phobias.
Some dogs are more prone to fireworks anxiety than others. Some dogs are apathetic towards fireworks, some are downright panicked and require pharmaceutical intervention to get through.
BUT...if your dog is not showing signs of fireworks anxiety right now it doesn't mean that it won't develop later. We must be proactive and always working on this because it is so ingrained in their DNA to fear loud noises. In fact, I can almost promise you that fireworks will be a problem later if they're not yet.
SIGNS OF FIREWORKS ANXIETY
When the fireworks start, you might see these signs signs like hiding, cowering, jumpiness, avoidance, or clinginess. Some dogs may exhibit repetitive behaviours, which is very concerning and should be addressed with your Veterinarian. This might include circling or any other repetitive behaviour that cannot be easily interrupted.
If they cannot find relief, the escalation may continue to destruction, vocalisation, self-harm, soiling in the house, or attempts to escape/bolt.
So what are we to do?
MANAGEMENT & PREVENTION
Dogs with sound phobias are very likely to bolt if given the opportunity. They will run far and fast. They will hide for even days after a trauma like a fireworks. Don't let your dog become a statistic.
- Check their ID tags and make sure they're up to date and secure (in good condition).
- Check their microchip information so that you know Animal Control or a local Vet clinic can get ahold of you if the dog is found.
- Be mindful around exits if you are leaving - your dog may try to sneak out with you.
- Walk them well before the fireworks start. This is usually at dusk (why??? It's still light out!!)
- Keep them on a leash outside, even in your fenced yard.
- Double check your fences/gates for holes or weak points.
- You CAN comfort your dog. Don't feel that this will increase or reinforce the fear. If your dog is seeking comfort in you, provide it.
- NEVER ever punish your dog for signs of fear - scolding, yelling, pushing away, forcing into a sit/down/crate, hitting, kicking, correcting, etc. Doing so will cause an even greater negative association with the experience (and you), exacerbating their fear the next time fireworks happen.
- Close the curtains and turn ON the lights; this will block out the sight of the light-flashes.
- Close the windows and turn on the TV or music; this will block the sound of the bangs, pops, and squealing.
- You CAN distract your dog. This is one of the few situations where distraction can really help. Allowing them to focus on the sounds might cause them to fixate and panic more.
- Have a plethora of stuffed Kongs and food puzzles to keep them busy.
- Offer a safe place away from the doors and windows where they can cuddle up and feel secure. Some dogs love covered crates with extra bedding to sound proof, some prefer a dark bathroom or closet, some want to be near you!
- DO NOT bring them outside during the fireworks. This will backfire. I promise.
- Speak with your Vet about anti-anxiety medications if there is a history of fear, anxiety or stress with storms or sounds. They often go hand-in-hand.
Some calming aids might help. More serious phobias / anxiety will not respond to these and should be addressed with your Veterinarian.
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Be aware that your sound-sensitive dog might find the following hours or days stressful too. We often see that fireworks continue for a day or two after the holiday, so be prepared to do this for 2-4 nights.
If they had a particularly difficult time weathering the event, it may take days (yes, 3+ days!) for their cortisol (stress hormone) to lower. You may notice that they are edgy for a few days. This means that they may still be a flight risk, so keep things well-managed as you would during a fireworks event to allow them to decompress safely.
How can we prevent or treat firework phobias? Start early. Don't make assumptions. Don't get comfortable and assume your dog is fine.
A perfect example is Salinger; we worked hard on this from 12 weeks onward and he was always very relaxed during fireworks as a result. When he turned 4 years old, he suddenly and without warning became fearful of storms and fireworks. This is after years of hard work to prevent this on my part! It happens. Dogs are animals and anything can change.
Here are a few things you can do:
- Create positive associations with the sound of fireworks using counterconditioning - this Roadmap explains it for visual stimuli but you can use the same technique with the sounds on a smartphone app (like Soundproof Puppy Training) or YouTube videos. Always start on the lowest volume and don't "test" it to see how your dog reacts. It's much harder to modify after a trauma than it is to start easy and go slow.
- Create a safe place for your dog where they know they can go if they are worried. This might be a covered crate with extra bedding, for example.
- Talk to your Veterinarian if your dog is showing signs of stress during fireworks. Oftentimes dogs will need pharmaceutical intervention (not sedation - simply something to "take the edge off") to get through these experiences. This is extremely common, so do not feel as though you have failed. ❤️
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