Dogs And Fireworks

By Jon Bowen on 30 October 2017

As we know, dogs and fireworks do not seem to mix very well. About half of dogs in the UK show some level of fear of fireworks, thunder or gunshots, so most owners will have some experience of a noise-fearful dog.

However, this is just the tip of the iceberg; it’s not just dogs and fireworks that is an issue. In a recent study we found that noise related anxiety affects dogs in a much wider range of situations than just firework night or during a storm. About a third of dogs are frightened by angry or raised voices, and about a fifth are afraid of dogs barking, adults or children crying or screaming. About one in six are afraid of traffic noises such motorbikes, lorries or buses, and one in ten are afraid of generally noisy environments such as railway stations. Some dogs were even afraid of everyday noises like hairdryers, vacuum cleaners, and aerosols.

The problem is that the human environment is full of noise, but we fail to appreciate the impact that this can have on our pets.

For example, parties often include a lot of noise; raised voices, children playing, things being accidentally dropped or broken, party poppers, laughing, cheering, clapping and music. Even the preparation for a party includes a lot of noise; cleaning, cooking, people beautifying themselves, perhaps a bit of DIY, and an occasional argument. Again, more noises and stress for the dog. So, during a party, a dog that already has mild behavioural problems, such as feeling nervous around unfamiliar people, may be pushed beyond its limit and show aggression for the first time.

Likewise, a dog that is startled by heavy lorries or speeding motorbikes when it is out on a walk, may have even more difficulty when travelling in the car where the noises are even louder, closer, more persistent and impossible to get away from.

 

What are the signs that a dog might be stressed?

The most common signs of stress and anxiety in dogs include:

  • Restlessness
  • Pacing
  • Panting
  • Trembling
  • Whining or crying
  • Yawning (when not tired or resting)
  • Lip-licking (when not eating or drinking)
  • Refusing to eat
  • Trying to hide or wanting to be away from the noise

Each dog will show a different combination of these signs when stressed, but the more signs you see the more stressed your dog might be. You may have seen some of these signs without realising their significance; most owners aren’t aware that lip-licking and yawning are stress signs.

As an experiment, try thinking back to a few recent events such as a train or car journey, a party or watching a sports event on TV and try to remember whether your dog showed any stress signs. For example, you might recall that when your team scored a goal and everyone began cheering, your dog became restless and started to pant. Eventually he/she left the room and stayed in the kitchen until it was all over. That was a stressed dog, and you need to think about how you might handle similar events in the future.

 

Stress relief

If you see any of the stress signs, try to think about what might be stressing your dog, and then try to find a way to provide your dog with some stress relief.

Just like us, dogs can cope with short periods of stress but they have problems when stress persists and there is no way to get away from it. If you have a stressful job, taking regular breaks to stretch your legs and get some fresh air enables you to go back in and deal with the stress, and this is just the same for your dog. If your dog is stressed, take him/her somewhere quieter and less busy for a break. Exercise is also a stress reliever, so a walk or game can help. Pay attention to your dog’s level of stress and take action as soon as you see signs; don’t wait until your dog is having difficulties.

Once you are aware that your dog has noise-related anxiety, try and anticipate your dog’s needs and prepare for them. For example, if you know in advance that a party will be noisy and stressful for your dog then try to make sure that the noisiest activities happen in a particular room or part of the home, so that the dog is not surrounded by noise and activity.
For example, keep all the children’s party games in the garden or living room; the rest of the house is out of bounds. Set up a place for your dog to go for some peace and quiet whenever he/she wants; you could put your dog’s bed in your bedroom and then make that room out of bounds to guests. Some dogs would rather stay with you than go off to have a nap in a bedroom alone, so you may have to plan regular breaks with your dog, when you take him/her to sit somewhere quiet with you for a few minutes.

 

Fireworks and thunder

These loud noises are a problem for many dogs. The best way to handle this is to provide your dog with a readily accessible hiding place and try to minimise the impact of external noises by keeping curtains and windows shut, and playing background music. Feeding your dog early, and going on a walk before dark minimises the risk of exposure to loud noises outside. Try to act normally during the noises. Don’t try too hard to soothe your dog, but don’t ignore your dog either; instead, stay calm, act as a good role model and interact with your dog as you would at any other time. Above all, don’t get cross if your dog becomes uncontrollably distressed

 

Can medication help?

The stress-relief approach works with most dogs in most situations, but if your dog shows a lot of stress signs during noisy events such as fireworks, travel or parties then anxiety reducing medication can be very effective. There is a licensed product available that can reduce noise-related fear and anxiety without making your dog sleepy, Ask your vet for more information and they will be able to give further advice and prescribe the best medication for your dog.

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BVETMED MRCVS DIPAS(CABC)


Jon is a graduate of the Royal Veterinary College, where he is now honorary lecturer and head of the behavioral medicine referral service. Apart from his clinical work, Jon has contributed to a number of books on behavioral medicine, has recently published papers on the human-animal bond, relinquishment and behavioral development, and is a regular speaker at international conferences.

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