1. Make a safety den
Dogs can learn to feel safe in a particular space if it has positive associations for them. In the weeks before a fireworks event (like New Year), build a den for your dog and cover it with heavy, sound-muffling blankets. Now comes the fun part! It’s your job to go into the den with your dog as often as possible. Give them lots of cuddles, perhaps a few treats and play music (dogs prefer reggae or soft rock). After a few visits, play a pre-recorded track of firework noises in the background - there are playlists on the internet. If you get them used to the noise in advance, and teach them that it’s safe in the den when these noises are happening, they’ll know how to feel better when the big night arrives.
2. Think nutrition
Processed food packed full of additives has the same impact on dogs as it does on us - driving low moods, irritability and anxiety. To find out what kind of food you’re giving your dog, look closely at the labelling. ‘Dried meat’ and ‘animal derivative’ often means a concentrate of low-nutrition offal that has undergone an industrial drying process (often called rendering). Look out for phrases such as ‘dried chicken’ and ‘meat meal’ in the list of ingredients. As well as sticking to clean sources of quality meat, a few other ingredients have been linked to the alleviation of anxiety, including blueberries, kale, beef, oily fish and turkey. It’s a good idea to get your dog into a routine in advance, to maximise the mood-benefits of proper food. On the night, couple this with something to gnaw on, for example a chew toy. This can really help distract them from any feelings of anxiousness.
3. Teach positive associations
It’s possible to help your dog learn to perceive ‘triggering’ sounds in a more positive way. You can use classical conditioning techniques to create new associations. Food is a powerful reinforcement, but there are other ways to stimulate behaviours that are simply incompatible with fear, such as playing, chasing, exploring, ‘noseworks’ (where they sniff out a certain smell) etc. In the same way as with the den-building, use the fireworks playlist while also offering something your dog loves. By distracting them in this way, you’ll begin to change their association with the thing they fear.
4. Tire them out
We all know how much more settled a dog is after they’ve had a good run around. On the day you’re expecting fireworks, take your dog out for at least one long walk during the day, and make it a good one. Let them explore and play – and do the nosework they so love to be distracted by. Once you do get home, reward them with a calming, nutritious meal (perhaps our chicken kibbles), close the curtains and prepare to settle in for the night.
5. Wrap them up
If you’re planning on taking your dog out with you when there might be fireworks, make sure you have a lead and plenty of treats to create positive feelings. You can even dress them in an ‘anxiety wrap’, also known as a Thundershirt. This is a ‘coat’ style wrap that has been proven to soothe anxiety because it creates gentle pressure on the body, a bit like a big, long hug.
6. Stay with them
Just like humans, dogs are comforted by contact with those they love. Studies have also shown that dogs are hugely influenced by the behaviours of their owners. That means your behaviour can act as a buffer against stress - a calming presence. Talk in a soothing voice and stay with them for the duration of the fireworks. You could also try massaging them, if this is something they like. After all, as any dog-lover knows, they’re well worth sacrificing a night out at the fireworks for!