No matter how much we research dog psychology, there are always questions that lack definitive answers. One of these questions is ‘why do dogs dislike thunder and fireworks?’ We assume it is because of the noise. But then again, some dogs can happily live on work sites with tradies hammering and sawing all day long. But, when it comes to fireworks, a decent majority of dogs become inconsolable. This fear of fireworks is one of many reasons why I believe the canine psyche is far more complex than we give it credit for.
If your dog is afraid of fireworks, then you are certainly not alone. Arguably, when welcome in the new year, and celebrate other major holidays, these nights turn out to be the busiest for shelters and rescue organisations. Generally, dogs escape from their homes at these times, when nobody is home and they are confined to the outdoors. If a dog cannot escape the unpredictable blasts of explosives in the sky, then they will often stop at nothing to find safety. The desperation some dogs experience can lead to devastating consequences.
So how do you manage a dog’s fear of something that you cannot necessarily control? Sometimes, managing fears and phobias requires a little thinking outside the triangle. Here are some top tips to get your dog’s mindset on a more positive track.
- Ensure your dog is microchipped with your current address and contact details
- If you can stay home, STAY HOME! Or at the very least, employ someone to come and stay with your dog inside.
- Start early. Puppies are moderately easier to train, because you are able to desensitise them without waiting for them to develop the fear.
- Condition the noise to playtime. This can work beautifully if you are prepared to invest the time and energy into training. Use YouTube or similar, to find clear Fireworks noises and gradually increase the volume as you play. Try to emulate the same circumstances as a real experience. For example, nighttime, is more realistic, rather than training in the day.
- Playtime activities can include target training and hide n seek games. The more you engage your dog in thinking about something else, the better chance you will have at them desensitising to the noises. Dogs are invariably happier when they are using their brains and problem solving for positive outcomes.
- If your dog is genuinely phobic, do not leave them home on their own. It is crucial that there is somebody home with them, who can focus on their emotions and safety the entire night.
- Pair the noises with food. And, not just any food! So many of my clients come to training with their dog’s everyday kibble in their treat pouches. When reframing a mindset, like fear of fireworks; kibble doesn’t cut the mustard! Get smelly, fishy, gooey stuff, or, roast chicken; if the idea of the former treat is too stomach turning.
- Believe it or not, but you can actually purchase doggy Ear Muffs. The effectiveness of them is not well researched, but it may certainly be worth a try if you are home and trying to manage the noise.
If you can predict that there may be audible fireworks in your area, be prepared!
Ensure that you turn up your music, have plenty of treats at hand and playtime ideas. And, most importantly remain calm yourself. Even enthusiastic voices and interactions with your dog can give away that something is up. So, act normal. Your energy is undoubtedly contagious and our dogs are more perceptive than we realise.
Sometimes, having a dog comes with great sacrifice. This might mean that the huge dance party you were hoping to go to on Labour Day weekend, may be traded off for a night in with your pooch. And even though I would much rather stay at home, there is no doubt that all of us experience some sort of sacrifice when taking care of our beloved dogs. If you cannot be home however, there are excellent contingency plans that can ensure your dog has a safe and happy evening in.
We all have unusual quirks, fears and insecurities in life and our dogs are no different. So, next time fireworks are scheduled in your area, take this advice on board and enjoy the night, knowing that your dog is getting everything he needs for great night. When our dogs are safe and happy, we can celebrate the holidays, as well as celebrate the fact that we are doing the very best by our dogs!