Fireworks may be fun for us, but they can be frightening for our dogs. Kristie Bradfield finds out how to help phobic pets.
Peppers Macarthur, a 10-yearold Chihuahua, has never liked fireworks. “She’s not keen on the loud noises,” says her owner, Amanda. “If she hears anything that sounds remotely like fireworks she’ll start shaking and looking for places to hide.” Peppers is not alone in her fear of fireworks. If you scour the many missing pets pages on Facebook you’ll notice a spike in listings the day after fireworks displays.
The fear dogs have for fireworks has nothing to do with the vivid explosions of colour that we humans are mesmerised by. For dogs, the fear lies in the loud, reverberating booms that can be heard kilometres away. Dogs can’t tell the difference between loud noises for entertainment and loud noises to be fearful of, so it makes sense that some are driven by a primal fear to escape. With fireworks and the festive season going hand in hand, it’s important to understand why some dogs become so distressed by these loud noises and what we can do to help them.
Keeping your dog calm
With the festive season comes the fireworks season. If your dog is fireworks phobic, these seven things will help it feel more at ease.
If possible, avoid the fireworks. Keep up-to-date with fireworks scheduled for your area and plan to take a drive out of the area or spend some time with family and friends in a different suburb.
- Bring your dog inside
If your outside dog doesn’t cope well with loud noises, bring it inside. A safe spot in the laundry or garage is better than leaving the dog outdoors where it could potentially harm itself or escape.
- Change the environment
If you can’t avoid the fireworks, create a safe environment at home. Close all the doors and windows, draw the curtains and put the TV or music on. If you won’t be home, put your dog in an area of the house that it associates with positive feelings. “This may be a confined space such as the laundry or a crate with food, toys, and perhaps an item of clothing that smells of you,” says Dr James.
- Secure the environment
Fireworks-phobic dogs do anything they can to get away from loud noises — including escaping from the backyard. While it’s important to check for and block possible escape routes, bear in mind that your distressed dog may injure itself creating one.
- Do not fuss or punish your dog for fearful behaviour it exhibits when stressed
This can make the behaviour worse.
- Work on desensitisation and counter-conditioning
It is possible to desensitise your dog to loud noises using CDs and apps available online or from your vet. They work by exposing your dog to a loud noise that gradually increases in volume over time until your dog is no longer fearful.
- Your vet can help
If your dog’s fear of fireworks continues to be a problem, your vet may suggest medication, anti-anxiety wraps or sound therapy.
Dates to keep in mind
Most major cities feature fireworks on New Year’s Eve, Australia Day and Chinese New Year. If your dog is afraid of fireworks, check your local council website to see if displays are planned for your area.