At this time of year I am often asked how to handle fear of fireworks in dogs, so the aim of this blog is to develop our understanding of the situation a little and to make sure we do the right things about it:
What causes fear of fireworks in dogs?
The obvious thought is that they are scared of the loud noise. This is quite natural, as often small children are instinctively fearful of loud noises including fireworks too. This is one of the two innate fears animals are born with. Fear of loud noises and fear of falling. Everything else we learn over time!
Children learn from their parents and older siblings that it’s nothing to worry about. Dogs often don’t! Usually because our default well meaning human behaviour can make things worse, or they just aren’t trusting our decisions about it.
How to avoid making the fear worse.
The human response is to try to reassure, to cuddle and console. What this means to the dog is that you are concerned too; so don’t do any reassuring/soothing etc.
Some dogs will seek to hide. If your dog does this, let it! Don’t try to coax it out. They may think that you are trying to get into the shelter with them, and again they will think that you are worried too.
If we look at them anxiously, wondering whether they are okay, they will think we are anxious about the fireworks and are looking at them for what to do about it, so don’t look at them!
What about gadgets and sprays?
I often get asked about plug in diffusers and thundershirts. The jury is out as to whether these make a difference to a dog or not. One thing I can say for sure is that they are not infallible, I have helped many dogs for whom they haven’t made one jot of difference, and they are not an approach that your dog will naturally understand. So they might be soothed at the time, but you are not taking away the overarching problem.
So how do you deal with fear of fireworks?
If your dog is scared of fireworks it’s a sure sign that they need to be shown by you that the fireworks are nothing to worry about. The best thing that we can do is act as though everything is fine. Instead of worrying about your dog, get on with your evening as though nothing is happening. Make sure you occasionally move confidently around your house too, e.g. to get a drink or do a quick chore. This ensures your dog realises that you aren’t rooted to the spot with fear yourself.
Just leave it to work out for itself that no one else is scared of fireworks, and then it will be able to think that if no one else is worried, maybe it isn’t anything to worry about….
What about the root cause?
Ultimately a dog who is scared of fireworks is deciding for itself that the fireworks are a danger, and what to do about it (run and hide, bark excessively). A dog who knows that you are in charge ought to look to you to see what your reaction is to the fireworks first, and then take their lead from you. If your dog isn’t doing this, then it is likely that it doesn’t see you as the leader.
Taking the leadership role is the kindest thing that you can do for your dog, as you will remove from it all the stresses of the human world that it doesn’t understand but thinks that it is responsible for. Other than removing its fear of fireworks, by taking the leadership role you will also help with all manner of other dog behaviour problems (if relevant), including:
- pulling on the lead
- excessive barking
- jumping up
- destructive behaviour
…and much more…
Your dog has a natural understanding of what leadership looks like, and it’s quite different to our default human behaviour. You don’t have to be firm or dominant with your dog, you just have to show it the calm signals that it would expect from a leader. This is what I can teach you to do. If you are based in Essex or the surrounding area then please get in touch, and let me help you to help your dog behaviour concerns.