Petrified Pooches? Fireworks aren’t fun for everyone.
As we celebrate events, special occasions and parties with firework displays, not all of our family members are joining in the festivities. Our four-legged friends are often hiding behind the sofa, trembling under beds or jumping 6-foot high fences!
How to avoid a firework phobia
Gradual exposure to fireworks would be the ideal way to prevent fears and phobias occurring but few of us can recreate a complete firework exhibition in our backyards. We can, however, create sounds and flashing lights. Do this when your pup comes to live with you and he or she should come to accept this as normal.
There are also commercially available CDs of sounds (for example ‘Sounds Scary’) for you to play to your dog. Gradually increase your dog’s exposure to these over time and pair it up with positive experiences such as feeding or play time to prevent or to solve firework fears.
If your dog is really terrified of fireworks and other noises then it may be worth talking to your vet about some veterinary medication to help your dog as well as consulting an animal behaviourist who will be able to design a behavioural treatment program.
Tips to avoid firework frights
- Take your dog for a nice long walk on the day of the fireworks. This will help burn off some of the energy that could otherwise add to your pet’s anxiety. This also allows for a toilet visit as your dog may not want to leave the house later that evening.
- Be prepared. Bring your pets inside (either near you or in a small, secure space) well before the fireworks begin – once they have started it may be too late. Make sure your pet has external identification (name and telephone number) in case of escape.
- Close your blinds or curtains and leave the lights on so the flash of the fireworks is not as startling.
- Turn on the television or radio so that the fireworks blend with a noise your dog is used to.
- Keep your dog’s favourite toys or treats on hand to provide comfort and distraction during the fireworks display.
- Don’t make a fuss while the fireworks are on. A reassuring pat or a few words are fine - overdoing the attention will only confirm that something abnormal is happening.
- Ask your local council to notify the community if there is to be a firework display in your area. Then you can be prepared well in advance.
Case Study Champion
Champ was a 1-year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier who reacted to the local firework display by escaping from his backyard. His family were alarmed and decided to keep him indoors during future displays. They also kept their lights on and music playing to mask the bright lights and loud sounds. Champ appeared to settle well during the next firework evening.
Case Study Minty
Minty was a 6-year-old Poodle cross who hated any loud noises and her owners were keen to help her before the local firework night. Playing sounds of fireworks and other loud noises from CDs specially prepared for dogs helped desensitise Minty to the sounds. After 6 months she is almost cured.
About Dr Joanne Righetti
Dr Joanne Righetti is an animal behaviourist, educating the public and professionals in all aspects of the human–animal relationship. Her background is in zoology, with a PhD in animal behaviour and a counselling diploma – qualifications which enable her to work with all sorts of animals – including the human variety! Joanne likes to help pet owners understand their pet's behaviour and solve any pet behaviour problems. She also consults to a variety of organisations including non-profit organisations, commercial companies and councils and is involved in a variety of media including regular spots on radio. Joanne is an honorary associate of the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, University of Sydney. Find out more about Joanne at www.petproblemsolved.com.au