41% of dog owners report that their dog is scared of fireworks so many are dreading the start of Firework Season. If you have a dog that is nervous and scared of loud noises don’t despair, there are lots of things you can do to help.
Whippets are often thought to be nervous, anxious dogs. In my experience this is not true. Yes there are those who are, but in general they are happy, confident and curious souls. But, noise is something they need to get used to when they are puppies otherwise you could encounter the consequence of fearful behaviour as adults.
I turned to Niki French for advice on this topic after attending one of her webinars about getting your dog prepared early for what’s to come. My biggest take away – the more confidence your dog has, the better they will cope with what’s to come.
Working on your dogs confidence through playing games well ahead of time – forget training when your dog is in the scared zone – will massively pay off.
Niki is a dog trainer; podcaster and author of the bestselling book Stop Walking Your Dog – a fantastic resource for any dog owner. So, over to Niki –
Is it normal?
The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report 2022 reports 41% of people say their dog is afraid of fireworks - 4.1 million dogs. That’s a lot of Whippets for sure! Having a fear response to loud and sudden or unusual noises is a very natural response. And if your dog is scared of a noise, it tends to get worse over time if you don’t do anything to help them.
Noise fears often go hand in hand with other struggles like separation anxiety and nervousness around other dogs and strangers. The good news is that when you help them with their confidence generally it can positively affect other struggles too!
Tip 1 Start early
Fireworks can be a problem all year round, but the run up to Bonfire Night tends to focus our minds due to the cluster of fireworks being let off around our homes over consecutive nights.
But what if there are only a few weeks to go. Is it too late to do anything? Absolutely not. There are a number of things you can do in the short term to minimise the impact. But do work on the longer term training to really make a difference for them.
Tip 2 Make your S.O.S. plan
Fireworks season is particularly tough on noise sensitive dogs; repeated exposure to loud and novel noises. There is little chance for their stress hormones to come back down after each worrying event. You may notice they get worse over a number of nights.
Make a plan of short term things to try and help. Do some research and see what you think might help your dog. Things to consider:
- Collars, calming remedies, diffusers. If you think something works for your dog – do it!
- Pheromones/homeopathic remedies? Some find them helpful.
- Thunder shirts/wraps/antistatic capes?
- Create them a cosy den – draped sheet or towel over some furniture or a covered crate?
- If they’ll eat, prep lots of tasty treats (you can reduce their calories another day).
- Radios/TVs/white noise machine – on in different rooms.
- If your dog has serious noise reactions, talk to your vet in advance. There are different types of pharmaceutical options that may help.
Tip 3 Does ‘desensitisation’ work?
Desensitisation is the gradual exposure to a new or scary thing. You start at very low level or at a distance and a short period time that doesn’t give them any worries at all.
You play the sounds super quiet. You can pair it with a tasty chew or a calming lick mat or feeding them some treats. Watch for small changes in their body language – anything negative, even just an ear twitch, tongue flick which shows they’re uncomfortable. Work well within what they don’t react to - this takes time and patience. Only build up in very small steps.
There are useful online resources like the Sounds Scary audio files from Dogs Trust
Tip 4 Avoid walks if you think there is any chance of fireworks going off
If in doubt, don’t go for a walk. Or let your dog into the garden without you. Even in the daytime. A sudden loud noise while they’re outside can be very scary for them. Go outside with them to toilet and replace walks and garden time with games they enjoy indoors. With a little knowledge you absolutely can keep a dog physically and mentally active inside when you need to.
Tip 5 Does your dog shut down or hide when they’re scared?
If your dog tends to tremble, hide, stare at the wall when they are scared, they are a ‘passive coper.’ If your dog runs around, barking and whining they are an ‘active coper.’ Dogs that are still/passive aren’t coping any better even though it looks less dramatic. Their stress hormones are rising and have nowhere to go because they not moving.
Gently trying to get your dog moving can be helpful. It’s something to build up before they are scared by something, so lots of fun games involving movement can help over time. If you need some help with this, do consult with a positive and experienced dog trainer.
Tip 6 Will reassuring my scared dog make them worse (and other myths)?
It’s a myth that reassuring your dog when they’re scared will make them worse. If they seek reassurance and you ignore them, this can be punishing and confusing for them. You don’t need to make a big fuss but if they’re looking for your company, let them.
Dogs don’t model off us - it’s not less scary for them if we ignore the noise. Another (calm) dog can help – they can see and understand that the other dog isn’t worried and learn from them.
Work on building their confidence over time, but until then, just having a plan in place can help you feel less worried and they will pick up on this.
The Amazon best-selling book STOP Walking Your Dog is available in paperback, Kindle and Audible versions. Find out more https://go.puptalk.co.uk/stopwalkingyourdog/
I hope this has been helpful, we’ve always found putting on a cosy jumper can help too. Good luck, I hope this advice helps. Niki has lots more info on her website too.