Preparing for Fireworks Season

Allow your dog to rest where they feel safest.

Created: 03/11/2017 Updated: 04/08/2021 - Shelley Audis-Riddell

autumn advice, Behaviour & Training, bonfire night, cats, dogs, halloween, stress and anxiety

Not so long ago, the firework season was short-lived and lasted for just a few days either side of November 5th. More recently, things have changed. Now, it’s not uncommon for sporadic outbursts of firework activity to occur for more than a month. This makes the distress caused to dogs and other animals really difficult to manage. Demonstrating a fear response to unexpected or unusual noises such as construction work, field shooting, thunderstorms and fireworks is a natural feature of dog behaviour, regardless of the triggering stimulus, and can be damaging to the dog’s welfare, leading to emotional and even physical problems if not properly managed.

OSCAR tips for bonfire night

Helping your pet to cope

As with all animals, an immediate stress response is healthy and forms part of the fight or flight reflex, vital to an animal’s survival in the wild. However, our pet dogs do not exist in the wild and some variation will occur between animals’ responses. Those of us who have cats know that their natural reaction is to escape and hide until the stimulus recedes but with dogs, the individual responses may vary considerably. When responses are severe, the effects can last well beyond the event or stimulus and can cause lasting distress.

A discussion with your veterinary nurse will help you to understand the difference between anxiety, fear and the more consistent behavioural trait of phobia, but, in essence, the better we can prepare our family environment for those stimuli that we can anticipate, the better we can manage the dog’s response. Additionally, early preparation and familiarisation by the dog with such managing strategies will greatly assist in providing a calming environment for the dog.

Your vet can help by suggesting certain medications for short-term use, but these alone do not remove the need for other behavioural support and many owners have found that a combination of supportive actions such as human reassurance, calming medication and the use of a dog appeasing pheromone works better than a one-off usage of a pharmaceutical preparation. There are other well-tried and tested options such as massage, body wraps, nutraceuticals and behavioural modification, but any approach to reducing your pet’s response to stress should be both considered and informed, and a consultation with your veterinary practice should always be your first step if your dog shows evidence of prolonged reaction to external stimuli such as noise.

Tabby hiding under a chair.

What the science says

While animal behaviourists may not always agree about the best way to deal with various patterns of behaviour, they do all agree that a planned approach to dealing with behaviours that exceed the everyday, transient response, to unusual stimuli is an important part of avoiding lasting changes to normal, interactive behaviour. Most animals rapidly return to their normal resting state when the stimulus is removed, but if your pet does not act in this way it is important to seek informed advice from your veterinary practitioner who will be skilled in understanding the differences between normal anxiety, fear and phobia.

It is important that familiarisation with such normal (but infrequent) stimuli is part of a young puppy’s training, but such concerns become more difficult once the dog has become an adult.

What we can do to help our pets stay calm

In the meantime, there are some things that dog and cat owners can do to help: Our pets quickly pick up on our own levels of stress so remain calm and do not act in an overtly fussing manner Keep to normal patterns of activity wherever possible as our pets find such familiar events reassuring Walk dogs earlier (ideally before dark) to minimise exposure to the noise and flashes of light Keep cats, rabbits and other pets inside at times when disturbance can realistically be expected Create a safe space inside where your pet can find shelter, with favourite and familiar toys and fabrics, but avoid the pet feeling constrained or trapped Play with your pet during times of noise stimulus Close curtains to avoid flashes of light and play the radio or TV as a distraction If your dog is already crate trained, he or she may find their crate to be reassuring. If your dog goes there voluntarily it may provide a good safe place, but never introduce your dog to a crate for the first time during a stressful event such as fireworks

Finally, make sure that you do not provide any reward or reinforcement for (and do not punish) any inappropriate behaviour. The sooner everyone concerned can get back to normal life the better!

Do you need further advice?

If you need any further advice, please contact the OSCAR Helpline Team on our freephone number 0800 195 8000 or email helpline@oscars.co.uk.