Fireworks and Dogs
It is the 5th of November – Fireworks night. We all love watching displays and relish in ‘Ooos and Aaaahhhhs’ whilst the fireworks light the sky up in beautiful colours. However there is a dark side to fireworks for those that have fearful pets. Just the mere sound of a firework can set some dogs off into a frenzy.
As the owner of a Labrador who has a fear of Fireworks, I was keen to seek the advice from a professional on how best to help her with this fear.
5 mins with Adem Fehmi – Top Dog Behaviourist from Dog-ease
I was so excited that I was able to chat with Adem Fehmi – who is a Top Dog Behaviourist in the UK and pick his brains on how best to help dogs with fear of fireworks. Not only was he able to answer my questions, he also answered some that were submitted to me from some dog owners who are also experiencing problems, he has also provided us with a help-sheet which you can download here:
Me: Adem thank you for agreeing to meet today. I really appreciate your help which I know will help others who are experiencing problems with their dogs behaviour when they hear fireworks. I am going to go straight in with a question from the public.
Kerry asks: My dog hates fireworks, one band and she hides behind the hoover in the under-stairs cupboard. Are we best ignoring her or try to reassure her?
Adem: Ignore her. If this is the place that she goes to every time, then you could try putting a piece of unwashed clothing that has your scent on, to help the dog feel even more comfortable.
Moving forward there are things that you can work on with your dog in advance of fireworks night to help her which would need to be done ‘prior’ to event. There are CD’s that you can buy that you can use to help your dog become acclimatised to the noise, but this would need to be used in a controlled manner over time before fireworks night. Although I recommend Iphone apps or You tube, which means you can use them whilst out and about throughout the year.
For this year make sure you exercise your dog during the day, Give your dog a Kong ball or pigs ear to distract before the fireworks start, shut the curtains in the house and try playing ‘Classic Fm’ around the home which can help to block out noise and calm the dog.
Me: So this is the same for our Labrador then. She physically shakes and creeps upstairs and hides under Archie’s bed. So for today we should just leave her to find her safe place. Moving forward we should work on some techniques to acclimatise her to the noise. Can I just ask why Classic FM?
Adem: Yes. As I mentioned with Kerry’s question you could also try playing Classic FM in the background, you could also put a jumper there with your scent on to make her feel more comfortable. Playing Classical Music has been scientifically shown to help decrease stress in dogs, humans and even increase milk yields in cows. Moving forward with your dog you could work on introducing CD sounds but in a controlled manner. Do exercise the dog well during the day to tire her out before the fireworks start and make sure she has distractions as well.
Vanessa asks: We have a ‘borrow my doggy’ friend who we have learnt is terrified of fireworks and his owner was asking me if i thought it’s possible to desensitise dogs to fireworks by repeated exposure. I have no idea and while I’ve heard of it for phobias my instinct was no.
Adem: Yes you can desensitise them, however it would have to be in a controlled manner over time. There are lots of CD’s available with fireworks noise to use but I think apps on Iphones and You Tube are preferable as mentioned in Kerry’s question. I need to stress that it has to be done in a controlled manner. Start on a light level programme. Play background noise of the firework noise whilst they are exercising or just after. You need to make sure you have drained their energy before playing the sounds because just playing the noise for a dog that is high energy can make them more anxious.
For tonight, just make sure the dogs are well exercised, shut the curtains, play music in the background and distract them with something like a Kong Ball with treats in.
Suzi asks: I have heard it is wise to play them a soundtrack of fireworks for the 2 weeks leading up to this annoying time of the year! I haven’t had a chance to try this on our boy Jack, who barks and barks and thinks we are under attack! Any advice for next year will be gratefully received! x
Adem: This is an interesting one because we don’t know if he is barking because he is scared or barking because he is excited. Don’t react to him or give the dog human emotion. For this year I would try playing Classic FM in the house, make sure that he is really well exercised before fireworks begin. Tire him out and drain his energy. Give him a distraction.
Moving forward again you could use the Background sound techniques that we have mentioned throughout; however this does depends on if he is excited or scared. If he is barking out of excitement, then the background noise could elevate this.
Lisa asks: Holly is terrified and we hate this time of year, could you ask about Thunder Jumpers and Dog Wrapping? I’ve heard a lot about it recently and will try wrapping tonight but I am a bit sceptical about the jumpers? Thank you.
Adem: I personally have never met anyone yet that had success using Thunder Jumpers or Dog Wrapping (Sorry). You could still try the techniques however use them along side other things, not on their own.
Me: It seems that everyone is experiencing similar issues with their dogs.
So to sum it up:
For now we:
Need to exercise our dogs well during the day. DO NOT TAKE THEM OUT TONIGHT!
Distract the dogs with Kong Ball with treats or a pigs ear.
Close the curtains to dull the sounds and lights.
Need to not over-react around the dogs behaviour. This could make them more anxious as they will be picking up on our behaviour change. If the dog has a ‘safe den’ like area they have been going to, allow them to settle there with a piece of clothing that smells of us to help them feel more secure.
Playing Classic FM around the house to help calm the dog.
Moving forward work on acclimatising the dog with firework soundtracks in the background in a CONTROLLED MANNER. This means after exercise when the dogs energy has been drained and at a light level over a period of time.
Adem: Yes. We have only covered a very small amount of issues here, however I have put together an Advice Sheet which your readers can download here. dog-ease-advice-sheet-bonfire-night
If you are worried or unsure about any behaviour ALWAYS seek the advice of a experience animal behaviourist.
Me: Thank you for your advice Adem and for sparing the time to speak with me, it is very much appreciated as I know you are very busy.
Adem: You are welcome. I hope that your readers can take some steps to helping their dogs around fireworks.
I will certainly be less reactive tonight when our dog is hiding upstairs and have already talked to the children about ‘not’ reacting when the fireworks are happening. For tonight we will not keep trying to coax her out from her little ‘safe place’ because ‘we feel’ she would be better with us. She clearly feels safer under the bed upstairs, therefore that is where we will leave her.
However I will be looking into working with the dog with the Fireworks Background sounds over time, so that hopefully she will be a lot happier at New Years Eve when they all start again.
I will keep you posted.
Our Kong Ball will have a mix of Peanut Butter in it along with cheese. I am going to freeze it and then give it to our dog later before the fireworks start. By freezing it, it will take her longer to get through it.
Thank you to Dog-ease
We are really grateful to Adem from Dog-ease for taking time out of his schedule to help with a couple of questions. We are hoping to work with Adem more in the future answering some more dog related questions.
Please make sure you all download this useful hand out that Dog-ease have put together to help us with our dogs at fireworks night. dog-ease-advice-sheet-bonfire-night
You can find Classic FM online here.
100 – 102 FM.
Sky Channel 0106
Virgin TV Channel 922
and try to enjoy fireworks night.