How to prepare your dog for fireworks?

13/11/2022 Upbringing & behaviour Dog

How to prepare your dog for fireworks?

New Year’s Eve is traditionally celebrated with fireworks, but for dog parents, this is often not a happy time, as dogs can be very fearful of fireworks. Fortunately, you can teach your four-legged friend that fireworks are not dangerous at all. Moreover, dogs that are afraid of fireworks are also often afraid of loud noises in general. The following tips and training exercises will help your pet get through the fireworks.

How do I know if my dog is scared of fireworks?

It’s often difficult to recognise signs of stress in your dog. Because of this, you may often not realise that your dog is scared.

Common symptoms of a stressed or frightened dog are:

  • Pulling his ears back
  • Walking away
  • Frequently yawning, panting without being too hot and licking of lips
  • Being overly alert and nervous and restless walking around
  • Not wanting to eat
  • Whining or barking

How to prepare my dog for fireworks?

It’s important to start at a very early age when it comes to training your dog. The best thing to do is to start with it when he’s still a puppy, because at this age, they’ re not yet familiar with the phenomenon of fireworks. As with all other dogs, the same applies here: the earlier you start training, the easier it will be to train them. 

Maybe your dog is already a little older? That doesn't have to be a problem. In this case, it’s important to start training as soon as possible so that your four-legged friend is ready for the next fireworks spectacle. Throughout the learning process, patience and perseverance are the message!

What is the best way to get my dog used to fireworks?

To get your four-legged friend used to fireworks, you should consider 3 important components: Light, sound and scent
Tip: Make sure there are two of you and your dog is always on a leash. That way you prevent him from hurting himself and from running out of fear and harming himself or the environment (e.g. running in front of a car).
When you do firework training with your dog, you have to exude confidence and calm. So whatever you train (light, sound or scent), act as if it’s the most normal thing in the world for you. If your dog sees that you’re at ease and there’s no reason to panic, he’ll also be more likely to feel at ease in new, more difficult situations.

Light and scent

To get started, you can use sparklers, which are available in shops all year round. Their scent and sound are similar to that of fireworks.

Step 1
Light the sparkler and see how your dog reacts. If he remains calm and doesn’t care about the sparkler, feel free to get a little closer. Do this quietly and see how far you can go, until you can stand next to your dog. Make sure your dog can never touch the fire.

Step 2
Now that your dog is no longer interested in the sparkler, it’s time to introduce him to the bright light that accompanies fireworks. Do this in the dark with disco lights or a torch. Or turn off the lights and play a YouTube video on your TV with lots of different, bright lights (without sound). From the moment your dog is no longer interested in this, you can move on to the next step. 

Sound

A particularly easy way to get used to the sound is to watch the many YouTube videos where you can clearly hear the fireworks. Some videos are specifically for training dogs, like this one: 
Step 1
Play the videos at a low volume. So low that you can barely hear it. If your dog agrees, you can turn up the volume, a little louder each time. Make sure there is enough variety in the sounds, because your dog will soon realise that the sound is always the same. This can lead to him knowing this sound and still being afraid of other firework sounds.

Step 2
It’s also a good idea to go outside so that your dog gets used to the sound in different ways. Play the videos from as many places as possible.

How do I make my dog comfortable during the fireworks?

Is your dog still afraid of fireworks? Or haven't you had enough time to teach him that fireworks aren’t dangerous at all? Then here are a few things you can do to make your four-legged friend as comfortable as possible during the festive season:

  • Make sure your dog has a safe spot where he can hide away at times when he’s uncomfortable. For example a dog crate.
  • Keep breakable items out of the way; you obviously don't want your faithful friend to injure himself by knocking over a vase in a panic.
  • Close all doors, windows and roller shutters to reduce noise and light effects.
  • Various home remedies such as Bach flowers can alleviate anxiety and fear in your dog. The advantage of Bach flowers is that they are non-toxic and not narcotic or addictive. It gently balances your dog's emotions.
  • Provide distraction! There are many different games to challenge your dog. By playing, your four-legged friend won’t notice too much of what’s happening outside. Kong also has useful tools to distract your dog. Did you know that when a dog uses his nose and sniffs, endorphins are released in his brain? This will calm down your dog. So if you get your dog to sniff, the fear will soon be gone. For this, you can use a sniffing mat.
  • Covering the ears (e.g. with a Buff) or wrapping your dog can also help to calm him down. Remember that both covering and wrapping should be practised extensively beforehand so that your dog gets used to it.

What can I do with my dog during fireworks?

Even during fireworks, there are a few things you can do to make your dog as comfortable as possible and reassure him.

  • Turn up the radio or TV extra loud. These are sounds your dog is familiar with. This will also stop him hearing the bangs of the fireworks. Just make sure you put on quiet sounds and not overly loud party music.
  • Stay inside, fireworks can be very beautiful for us but when your four-legged friend is scared or tense inside, it’s very important that you stay with him. He needs you!
  • Pamper your dog with tasty snacks and spread a nice scent around the house. By the way, there are also snacks that have a soothing effect.
  • If your friend is afraid of the sound of fireworks, he may also be afraid of other loud noises. This may be due to past events. You can seek a therapist to find out where the problem comes from. That way, you can address this fear of sounds in a more targeted way.

Massages are highly effective against firework fear

One of the best ways to calm your dog down is a pressure point massage. However, it’s very important to practice this beforehand so you know what your four-legged friend likes best. When doing a pressure point massage, focus on:

  • Your dog’s ear pinna, the back of the skull and the point between the eyes: massage these areas gently with circular movements.
  • The sternum: place your thumbs a finger’s width beside the sternum, gently press your thumbs into the tissue and rotate them in a circle.
  • The jaw: Massage it by making circular movements with your thumbs.
  • The rim of the skull: press your thumbs gently into the tissue and rotate in circles around the entire rim of the skull.
  • The ear: support the inside of the ear with your fingers, and apply pressure with your thumb on the outside of the ear. Stroke from the beginning of the ear to the tip of the ear.
All these points on your dog's body are typical stress points. By releasing these, you can also release stress faster.

What should I definitely not do during fireworks?

There are a few things you should definitely not do when your four-legged friend isn‘t feeling well due to all the stimuli he has to cope with during the festivities.


Don’t use muscle relaxants

Until recently, vets prescribed dogs muscle relaxants for fear of fireworks. Your dog will seem calmer, but his fear will only get worse.


Don’t apply the "flooding" technique

With the flooding technique, you keep confronting your dog with his fear. This is an outdated method that is unfortunately still widely used. With these methods, anxiety and stress can become more intense. In addition, your four-legged friend may feel that you are no longer supporting him, resulting in him shutting down completely.


Panicking yourself

When your dog himself isn’t calm, it’s very important that you do remain calm. The calmer you remain, the faster your dog will also feel at ease and become calm himself. This is because your dog realises that there is no danger at all.


Ignoring the fear or giving it too much attention

You should not ignore the fear, but giving it too much attention means you’re confirming it. The more attention you give it, the worse it will get. Too much comforting is going to make your pet pal feel that something is wrong and he has every right to be scared. Sit next to your dog, stroke or massage him gently and talk in a calm, quiet manner..

Some more tips from our Flamingo dog trainer:

  • Never leave your dog alone. You don't always have to give him attention, but make sure you are in the same room.
  • When you go outside and your dog accompanies you (only if he is not afraid of fireworks), it’s best to always keep him on a leash, even in an enclosed garden. This way he cannot hurt himself or others if he jumps away. If your dog is very anxious, you can keep him on a leash indoors. Make sure you always use a loose, relaxed leash and only use the leash to return your dog to his safe place. Don’t use slip leashes or chains in this situation.
  • Make sure you give your dog the opportunity to do his business half an hour before the fireworks. Nothing as annoying as an anxious dog that gets even more restless because he has to pee.
  • Try not to give your dog a large meal within the hour before the fireworks start. A full stomach during a panic attack carries the risk of gastric torsion (in large dogs), choking or vomiting. In addition, this will cause your dog to lose interest in the treats you offer as a distraction during the fireworks.
  • Always provide plenty of fresh drinking water.
  • Don't get angry, even if your dog knocks all the glasses off the table out of panic. Fear is a reflex you can't do anything about.

In a nutshell

When your dog is scared or uncomfortable, you can tell by his behaviour. For example he lays his ears flat against his head or he starts squealing and walking around impatiently.
It’s best to start training when your four-legged friend is still a puppy. When he’s older, it’s best to start training as early as possible.
Build up the training gradually. Start with sparklers and move closer and closer to your dog. Then do the same with brighter lights. When you have done this, make sounds from all corners of the room. This way, your dog will learn to deal with the loud sounds of the fireworks.
It’s very normal for your dog to hide when he’s scared. Make sure he has a hiding place where he feels comfortable. When he’s ready he will come back out again.