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Dogs and fireworks: how to keep your dog calm

Our friends at Lintbells know a thing or two on how to look after your pets, so we thought: who better to ask for advice on how to keep your dog calm this fireworks season? Whether you're joining us in the forest for your autumn getaway, or enjoying the season at home, here’s what they said…

Fireworks season, the time for wrapping up warm, sipping on hot chocolate and perhaps enjoying a fireworks display with friends and family? It can be… but for some family members, fireworks night = fright night. So what do you need to know about dogs and fireworks – and how can you keep your best friend calm and safe?

When you stop to think about it, our dogs do incredibly well to adapt to our busy lives and human habits. However, there are some elements of our world that they find a bit challenging and scary. One of the most common fear triggers is fireworks night.

Did you know that a whopping 45% of owners think their dogs are fearful of fireworks*? Unfortunately, the real number is likely to be even higher, as some signs that dogs are worried are less obvious.

Fear is a natural and understandable response to the unpredictable sights, sounds, vibrations, and smells of fireworks. So what can we do to help support our dogs and keep them safe this season?

Spot the signs

It starts with understanding when your dog is worried. Your dog says a lot about how he or she feels through behaviour and body language. Signs that they are stressed or worried include:

warning signs in dogs at bonfire night

They may become more clingy or come to you for lots of cuddles, go off their food, be more destructive than normal, or even have accidents inside the house. Every dog is different, so they may show one – or many – signs.

Thankfully, there are many ways to help your dog find fireworks less scary. From short-term solutions to long-term support, it’s all covered.

Home comforts for dogs on fireworks night

Managing your dog’s environment is the next step in helping your dog feel better when fireworks are on the cards. There are many ways to prepare in advance. We suggest that you:

Provide a safe space...

Many dogs feel safer hiding under the table, behind the sofa, or beneath a bed. Leaving a scary situation is a natural response so it’s important that your dog has access to a safe, private place.

Try to make their chosen spot as comfortable as possible – they’ll feel extra safe if you use familiar bedding, treats, or favourite toys, and cover the area with a blanket – though make sure there is enough air. Allow your dog free access, without using any force. Never put your dog in their safe space for confinement or punishment.

dog in bed with teddy

Reduce the visual impact...

Keep curtains and blinds closed to help reduce the visual impact of fireworks – black-out blinds are a good option or try adding a duvet or blanket over your regular curtains if they’re thin. This will muffle the sound, too.

Prepare a chilled soundtrack...

There are special soundtracks that help dogs cope with stressful or noisy situations – see if you can find a CD, or search for a playlist if you use Spotify.

Invest in a Thundershirt...

Thundershirts or wrap shirts give your dog the feeling of a comforting hug, and lots of dogs find them calming. Order in advance and get your dog used to the feeling before the bangs start for best effect.

Keep the lights on...

By keeping some lights on, shutting the curtains and providing secondary curtaining, you’ll reduce the contrast of any flashing lights outside, and muffle the sound too.

Walkies before dark...

Exercising your dog before dusk will reduce your chances of experiencing fireworks whilst out and about. It’s really important to keep your dog on a lead – if a firework were to go off and startle your dog they may run away or into the road. The double security of a harness and a collar can make sense in fireworks season.

dog walking through forest

Skip the displays...

It’s also important to never take your dog to an event where there are likely to be fireworks – even if you don’t think that they are afraid. You may not spot the subtle signs that they’re uncomfortable in all the excitement, and any accidents could see them become fearful in the future.

Stay indoors...

Make sure your dog stays inside so that they don’t bolt or escape. Be really careful when opening your door to visitors, keep windows shut, and try not to take trips outdoors.

Update their chip and check their collar or harness...

Is your dog’s collar or harness in good condition? Is your pet microchipped and wearing an identity tag? This is important for cats too – running away is a common stress response so it’s important to take every precaution. If they need a toilet trip after dark, pop their collar or harness and lead on – scared dogs are the ultimate escape artists, so don’t take the risk.

Being a brilliant friend – ways you can support your dog...

Our actions as friends and ‘pet parents’ have a tangible effect on how our dogs feel. There are things you can do that will make a real difference:

Keep calm and carry on with the cuddles...

Your dog will feel much more relaxed with you at home too – so try and swap nights out for snuggles on the sofa during firework season. Whilst it’s upsetting to see your dog in distress, it’s really important to keep calm yourself to support your dog.

Remember that it’s important to be consistent, kind, and fair with your dog when they’re worried – never get frustrated or angry. This only makes them feel worse, and could damage your relationship as their safe and positive friend!

couple on sofa with dogs

Don’t make too much fuss...

It’s natural to want to comfort your dog when they are worried, but be careful not to overdo it. If they choose to be next to you, it’s great to give calm, quiet attention as you usually would. But don’t call your dog to you if you see them showing signs of fear – if you’re worried, they’ll pick up on it, which can give them more reason to feel afraid.

Try play and feed treats...

Favourite treats, toys, or new games can be a great distraction for some dogs if they are interested. This is not a good idea if your dog has chosen to hide, or seems overwhelmed. Don’t force anything, and be guided by their level of interest and appetite.

Plan ahead

Find out the dates of organised firework events in your area so that you can add them to your diary and have time to prepare and be around to support your dog.

Fireworks are rarely confined to 5 November – they often whizz, pop, and bang in back gardens all winter long, so it’s worth being mindful from October right through until January!

Consider a calming supplement...

Calming supplements can really help dogs who react to fireworks. YuCALM Dog from Lintbells is a premium, all-natural supplement that provides support for stressed or anxious dogs. The combination of ingredients works on the calming pathways in the brain to help reduce stress and support dogs towards feeling better.

Use it as part of a combined approach to changing feelings and responses to scary situations, including fireworks. You can give it as part of your first steps toward rehabilitation as well as part of a longer-term behaviour therapy programme. Start at least a week before a known event, but remember that it may take up to 6 weeks to see best results.

Learn more about pet-friendly autumn breaks in the forest

References: Blackwell, E. J., Bradshaw, J. W. D. & Casey, R. A. (2013). Fear responses to noises in domestic dogs: Prevalence, risk factors and co-occurrence with other fear-related behaviour. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 145, 15-25.