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How to Prepare Your Dog for Firework Season.

It feels like yesterday that we were making space in our wardrobes for lighter clothing and summery outfits, and yet just like that, we’re almost in October!

Autumn is a beautiful season, but unfortunately, it also marks the start of firework season.

This means it is time to start preparing your dog to help them stay happy and safe over the following weeks and months.

Fireworks can be incredibly distressing for both wild animals and pets (and, to be fair, for many people as well!).

In an ideal world, noisy fireworks would be banned, but until that day comes, it’s up to us pet parents to try our best to make the firework experience as smooth as possible for our pups.

In this blog post, I aim to share my top tips to help you keep your pup safe and happy and minimise distress.

Please note that this aims to be more preventative rather than curative advice. If you know your dog struggles with fireworks, please contact a training/behaviour professional that can provide you with tailored guidance.

Sound therapy – Get your dog used to firework noises.

The idea is to start preparing your dog to hear fireworks while creating a positive association with them. A great place to find all sorts of noises and sounds is the Dogs Trust website, but YouTube, Spotify, and Soundcloud can also be great places where to go.

You want to start playing any sound at a VERY LOW volume to begin with and to keep monitoring your dog’s body language and reactions all the way through.

The idea is for your dog to be 100% relaxed as the sounds are playing in the background: if you notice they are getting a bit unsettled or starting to pay too much attention to the sounds, you want to turn the volume right down.

As your pup gets used to firework sounds playing at a low volume in the background, you can then start to increase the volume, but only if and as your dog remains relaxed.

You might also want to give your dog something fun to do whilst the sounds are playing to create a positive association between the sounds and something like an enrichment toy and/or treats, for example.

Remember that your dog will dictate the pace at which you progress.

Don’t be tempted to rush through it: less is more, and patience is key!

Make your home firework-proofed.

Preparing your house for events such as bonfire night and New Year’s Eve will be extremely beneficial. 

How you go about it will depend on your individual dog, as dogs are all different and what suits one dog might not suit the other.

Does your dog like to get under blankets or in tiny spaces when they feel a bit worried? Then preparing a little den with some blankets can be a great idea. 

If your dog doesn’t like to be in confined or covered-up spaces and is happier chilling next to you on the sofa, then go with that!

My suggestion is to have a few different things and locations for your dog to go to, so you can be covered and prepared for all eventualities.

Other little things you can do around the house include:

Shutting curtains to block out the lights.

Playing some soothing background noise.

Using plug-ins such as Adaptil and Pet-Remedy on the run-up to bonfire night.

If you decide to give things like Adaptil and Pet-Remedy a go, I advise trying them in advance to ensure they are helping your dog feel calmer rather than making them feel more unsettled.

Whatever you do, make sure you don’t force your dog to do anything they don’t want to do or to go anywhere they don’t want to go – and be ready to offer reassurance should they ask for it.

On this note: should you reassure your dog if and when they get worried?

A myth says that if you reassure a scared dog, you are reinforcing their fear. This is wrong, as you can only reinforce behaviours and not emotions! If your dog is worried and trying to get to you for reassurance, don’t think twice and reassure them.

Be aware of local fireworks displays.

A good idea is to find out when and where your local organised public firework displays will take place, so asking schools, community centres, and sports centres if and when they are planning something can help you prepare and plan accordingly.

Don’t forget to ask your neighbours if they will also have a private firework display in their garden.

Do NOT take your puppy or dog to a firework display, and don’t keep them outside in the garden during one.

Indeed, although it might be tempting to think that exposing a puppy to a firework display at a young age will help them get used to them, the experience will be too intense and likely have the opposite effect.

Keep your dog inside during a firework display at all times, and make sure that you adjust your routine accordingly to allow them to have toilet breaks and walks when it’s quiet outside (see below).

Adjust your routine.

Take your dog out for their daily walk earlier in the day, and try to avoid walking them when it gets darker. This is particularly important on bonfire night, and on the days immediately before and after.

Trust me when I say that missing an evening walk is not going to be a massive problem for your dog, whilst getting spooked by a sudden noise and flashy lights when out and about can create a long-lasting issue for them.

Unfortunately, some people go over the top and start shooting fireworks early in the day, meaning sometimes it can be hard to predict if and when a firework will go off during the day. But in my experience, most of the noise will happen after 4pm, so ensuring your dog has a walk and the opportunity to the toilet before then can be a great start.

If and when you take them out in the garden for their toilet break, do so on lead and supervise them at all times. I will go as far as to say that you could even teach your dog to toilet indoors in a tray or on an artificial grass patch to avoid any issues.

This can be particularly useful if you live in a build-up area and your puppy or dog is already sensitive to noises.

Arrange for you or someone you trust to stay with your dog.

Make sure there’ll be someone at home with your dog on bonfire night, and during the other local displays you are aware of. If you have to work or leave the house for whatever reason, ask someone you trust to stay with your dog whilst you are out.

This can be a trusted friend, family member, or pet professional.

Suppose your dog doesn’t have a relationship yet with this person. In that case, I advise introducing them to each other well in advance and making sure they build a trustworthy relationship ahead of time.

Ultimately, your dog will still need to feel safe with whoever they are left with!

Go all-in with enrichment!

Have a wide variety of enrichment toys ready to go!

What you choose will again depend on what your dog loves. These are some suggestions based on what my dog likes:

Frozen kongs; 

Lickimats with dog-friendly spreadable cheese; 

A cardboard box filled with papers, toilet rolls, and treats; 

A rolled-up towel with some treats in it (I call it The Burrito!);

Treats hidden around the house for her to find;

Long-lasting chews such as rabbit ears, pizzle sticks, and fish skin cubes.

My dog also loves training, so we like to spend some time doing some easy and fun tricks together to distract ourselves from the noise.

My top tip here is to have A LOT of things ready, so your dog is likely to be occupied for a more extended period of time. 

If they are on a diet or a special diet, you can reduce their meal size accordingly and speak with your vet about any concerns you might have on the matter. 

Enrichment doesn’t always need to involve food! You could consider collecting some interesting scents from the outside and placing them in mesh bags for your dog to sniff (make sure that whatever you collect and bring in is safe and appropriate for your dog).

Give your dog time to decompress.

On the day after a big event such as bonfire night or any firework display, it’s a good idea to give your dog the chance to rest and decompress. This is true even if they seemed ‘fine’ with the noise.

Indeed, you might find that your dog is more tired than usual or a little more on edge.

The priority here is to help them decrease their stress levels. So don’t be afraid to take it easy and let them rest and relax as much as they need!

Talk to your vet!

This is especially important if you already know your dog is scared of fireworks. These days there are plenty of options available regarding nutraceuticals and prescription medications, and finding the right product for your dog can help you live a less stressful bonfire night and firework season overall.

Don’t be afraid to get in touch with your vet for this, as they will be the best person to talk to, and they will be able to guide you and share helpful advice regarding possible medications and/or natural products.

Need Further Help?

Do you need further support in helping your puppy or dog feel comfortable with fireworks? Get in touch!

It’s never too early or late to start, and I’m always happy to help.

Email me at info@mykindadog.com and let’s get chatting!

And to keep up-to-date with all things puppies, adolescent dogs and scentwork, don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Instagram.

Dog trainer with her dog

This blog has been brought to you by Giulia, the owner of My Kinda Dog.

Giulia is a qualified and experienced dog and puppy trainer covering Bristol and surrounding areas. 

She offers private puppy training sessions, private dog training sessions, and scentwork classes.

Giulia is passionate about helping people understand, communicate, train and thrive with their dogs. 

You can see her here with Ruby, her beloved canine companion.