I once visited a friend and was surprised to find their dog wedged into an impossibly small space beneath a dresser, facing the wall with just its tail sticking out. He risked an occasional nervous peep over his shoulder and looked extremely sorry for himself - somewhat like Eeyore! This was how Sam spent every fireworks night and thunderstorm so everyone just learned to leave him in peace.
It turns out that eight out of ten pet owners have experienced at least one animal with a fear of fireworks (and thunderstorms!). Symptoms can range in severity, from shaking, panting and hiding, to destructive or aggressive behaviours as a result of sheer panic. How you respond to their behaviour will greatly influence how the fireworks night progresses but always remember that they are acting out of fear, so telling them off will only make matters worse.
It would seem reasonable to say that a fear of something which only happens a few times a year, giving off unexpected bangs, flashes and acrid smells is actually quite understandable. However, just as the vacuum and washing machine were once roaring, whirring death-machines, you can help your pet realise that fireworks won't actually hurt them.
So, what are the main things that need to be done?
The first thing to achieve is an environment that your dog sees as safe. What may not seem loud through the walls of our houses can still be very threatening for our pets, especially if the fireworks are close and vibrations can be felt as an additional, physical threat. You'll need to sound-proof your house as best you can using curtains and blankets and this will also help to block out the light. All doors and windows should be shut to keep both dogs and cats inside during displays. Make sure your pet has somewhere they can retreat to because just like Sam, your pets will feel safer if they can hide somewhere. A den would naturally be fairly cosy and small, so try to find a good sized box or crate and pad it out with lots of blankets. If they already have a favourite place, just make it more comfortable and inviting.
Your tone of voice and body language will affect your pet greatly. Never scold, fuss over or show concern when your pet is restless, shaking or being noisy. Showing your concern will only encourage this behaviour and it will get worse. During fireworks, you want to carry on your evening as usual and keep a light, happy tone. Reward calm behaviour and if your pet comes to sit by you, of course give them a cuddle!
Planning ahead will make this fireworks season much more bearable for both you and your dog. Make sure you find out when local firework displays are happening and make sure your pets have been exercised and given plenty of toilet time before bringing them in for the evening. If you feel your dog needs extra help, look into behavioural therapy such as desensitisation programmes (as simple as playing a CD in your own home!) or veterinary advice.
There is a good range of products including tablets, liquids, sprays, plug-ins and collars to suit any pet. Plug-in diffusers such as Feliway for cats and Adaptil for dogs are by far the easiest to use, are long-lasting and have changed the lives of pets and owners - forever! These products are not just for use during fireworks - they help pets to combat stress across a range of situations and I have personally seen their great effects in my own pets.
This post is just a brief introduction to combating your pet's fear. There are many areas that need addressing and some will take more time and effort than others. If you want to read more about how to prepare your home and your pets for fireworks, we would recommend reading 'Keeping your pets (big or small) happy during fireworks!' . The article covers small animals and horses as well as dogs and cats so it is a must for all owners concerned about their pets during fireworks!
We have another blog post dedicated to recommended Pet Calming Products if you would like some extra information on how they work.