New data from the charity Guide Dogs has revealed that dogs are more scared of fireworks than being left alone or going to the vet. Over 32,000 dog owners were polled about their pet’s biggest fear in Guide Dogs’ Great British Dogs Survey and a quarter (8,473) said their dog’s biggest fear was fireworks and loud noises.
Dogs are extremely sound sensitive, while the human ear can detect pitches up to 20,000 hertz, dogs can hear frequencies up to about 45,000 hertz, so it’s not just fireworks directly outside that need to be considered – it could be some much further away that can affect a dog.
As part of the socialisation of puppies at Guide Dogs, the charity provides all volunteers who look after guide dog litters with CDs to play for the puppies from the moment they begin to hear. This has a range of noises for them to be socialised to including fireworks at low volume and other noises.
With firework season upon us, it can be a stressful time for dogs who haven’t been socialised and find fireworks distressing, so Guide Dogs has prepared some top tips for pet dog owners to follow:
1. Know if your dog is stressed – there can be many warning signs to indicate your dog might be scared of fireworks including shaking, excessive panting, hiding, whining or barking and even vomiting or diarrhoea. Look out for these signs in the run up to fireworks season, as well as on Bonfire Night itself.
2. Make the noise less of a shock – to socialise your dog to the dreaded noise, you can play music or videos that stimulate the sound of fireworks, gradually increasing the volume over time while playing and rewarding your dog to help them associate the sound with fun things. The volume should be turned down or the sounds stopped if your dog shows any signs of worry.
3. Make your dog relaxed on the day – there are many things you can do in the lead up to Bonfire Night that can help relax your dog, including making sure your dog has a good walk before dark so they are tired and relaxed for the evening, feeding your dog earlier than normal so they can relieve themselves before fireworks start, by closing curtains and leaving the lights on or by creating a quiet, dark den for your dog to go if they become scared. It’s important to always give your dog a choice, and don’t force them to interact if they want to hide.
4. Make sure your dog is happy after the fireworks – some dogs can remain scared even after the fireworks are over. It’s important to not to make a big fuss of the fireworks ending and to remain your usual calm self during the evening – as animals are very perceptive creatures and can notice something is wrong. If you let your dog out, make sure that your garden is secure and be prepared that your dog might have an accident overnight as it may have been too scared to relieve itself, and always be prepared for more unexpected fireworks.
Guide Dogs volunteer, Sophie Vann, suffered her own negative experience around fireworks while walking her one-year-old guide dog puppy, Vixen, last year. Sophie said, “I was out for a walk with my partner when a firework was thrown into an underpass we were heading through. The noise scared the life out of us, especially Vixen. She wasn’t herself for a few months after.”
Sophie explained that it took about three months of careful training to get Vixen used to loud noises again and that she was already thinking about this year’s fireworks back in July, “It’s all about building layers of confidence. Since the incident, I prepare for fireworks season early and start by playing a fireworks playlist on my computer in the weeks and months leading up to it.
“Gradually I increase the volume, but I’m careful to ensure this is done gently to avoid making Vixen feel anxious. As for Bonfire Night itself, I’ll make sure she gets fed earlier, so that she can go out in the garden before the fireworks start. I’ll also move her bed away from the backdoor so that she can’t see the flashes. Vixen is going to be a guide dog mum in the future so I have to make sure she’s as comfortable as possible.”
For more information and advice on fireworks visit: guidedogs.org.uk/fireworks
If your dog has a severe reaction to fireworks, you should seek advice from your vet.