Things that go bang in the night

It might seem a bit early to be talking about fireworks – but it’s never too early to start getting your dog used to fireworks. Resident tails.com behaviourist, Carolyn Menteith is here to give you some top tips on desensitising your dog.

Well, it’s that time of year again… Time to get ready for firework season. 

No, I haven’t gone mad or have misread my calendar, the summertime really is the best possible time to prepare your dog for the crashes and bangs that inevitably accompany the darker evenings and long winter nights.

How to get your dog used to fireworks

The reason why this is the perfect time is because whenever we want to prepare our dogs for something that they could potentially find scary, there are certain guiding rules:

  • Firstly, do it slowly. 
  • Secondly, build it up gradually. 
  • And thirdly, don’t expose them to the scary thing until you have done the other two!

At this time of year, there is no rush, you can take your time – and there are no fireworks going off to ruin all your preparations by a sudden, intense exposure that will instantly undo all of your hard work and convince your dog that fireworks really are scary! This is why behaviourists get frustrated when every year in November, people start asking “how do I prepare my dog for next week’s fireworks?”

There are two parts to getting your dog used to firework sounds – desensitisation and counter conditioning – and to be most effective, you should do both.

Getting your dog used to fireworks

Desensitisation

Find recordings of fireworks you can download and play. A quick internet search will give you plenty of options. 

Start in a room where your dog spends most of their time and is relaxed and happy. Have the door open so your dog can leave if they want to. Begin by playing the firework sounds with the volume at zero – and slowly increase the volume until you can only just about hear it (remember your dog has better hearing than you). 

Don’t do anything different from usual, just let the sounds play for 5-10 minutes while you get on with your usual activities. Do this twice a day for two weeks. If you see any reaction at all from your dog at this stage, bar maybe a twitch of an ear, it is too loud.

After two weeks, you can begin to increase the volume slightly – all the time watching for any reactions from your dog. Keep it at the new level for two weeks before increasing again. Do this at different times of the day too – as real fireworks can happen at any time.

Over a period of weeks – or even a couple of months – you will reach the stage where your dog will not react even when you play the firework sounds at a loud volume. Don’t be tempted to rush this though (even if you think your dog will be fine) – and never increase the volume until your dog is showing no reactions at all to the previous level. That is the joy of doing this in the summer when there is no time pressure.

Once you get to this stage, do it with the sounds in different rooms too so your dog gets used to the firework sounds coming from different places. 

Counter conditioning

Now your dog is used to the sounds, you can move on to teaching your dog that these noises mean something fabulous is about to happen. 

Dinner time is the perfect opportunity to do this – as for most dogs it is one of the highlights of their day.

Prepare your dog’s dinner but before you put it down, start to play the firework noises at a level you already know they are comfortable with. Wait for a 30 seconds, and then put their food down and let the fireworks play all the time they are eating. As soon as they have finished, turn off the fireworks. Try and do this every day for the first week and then several times a week for the next couple of months.

Find a treat your dog loves more than anything else and put them in pot or a treat bag. While you are relaxing, use a remote control to play the firework sounds at the maximum level you know your dog is happy with. As soon as you hear the sounds, act really happy and excited and give your dog one of the treats – then stop the sound.

Repeat this several times during the evening until your dog is looking for the treat as soon as they hear the sound. Do this every day for the first few weeks and then once or twice a week after that – although as the firework season approaches, you can do it more often.

By doing this now, you and your dog will be totally ready for the firework season!

15 thoughts on “Things that go bang in the night”

  1. This was a very interesting article but came into my email box on 20th October so a bit later to put into action this year. My birder collie is now 13 and has always been dreadful with h fireworks/shooting/loud bangs. Having tried medication which u dislike and didn’t work, the covered crate and pretty much everything else this I haven’t done over such an extensive period of time. I personally think all loud fireworks should be banned and others only sold for public display to be used on specific dates. It is beyond ridiculous how you hear fireworks randomly going off even in the summer months

    Reply
    • I totally agree my dog started already the sound from her nothing I can do iv tried everything nothing works I now turn tv full volume to drown the noise it helps my friend horse had panic attack it was awful to watch they should be banned

      Reply
    • Our brilliant behaviourist, Carolyn, wrote this blog back in August – we have shared it a few times but a lot of people don’t start thinking about fireworks until it’s actually fireworks season sadly! Hopefully these tips still help for the coming months, and for next year too.

      Reply
    • It’s never too late – or too early – to start working on desensitisation with your dog! Hopefully these tips help over the next few months, and as they get older too.

      Reply
    • Our wonderful behaviourist, Carolyn, wrote this piece back in August – we shared it a couple of times but most people don’t start thinking about fireworks until it’s actually fireworks season! Hopefully these tips still help for the coming months, and for next year too.

      Reply
  2. Sound advice but can the same be used for older dogs who were fine and even went to displays but are now very scared and panting and trying to hide in small spaces

    Reply
    • Yes NY 12 year old staffie, us the same. Years ago didn’t bother her at all. Now she just wants to hide & gets distressed.

      Reply
  3. Wish you had posted this article months ago so we could have been preparing our puppy for fireworks as he is petrified of loud noises and fireworks which have started already!

    We will start to prepare him for next year now as he is petrified of loud motorbikes too!

    Reply
    • We posted this blog back in August but a lot of people don’t start thinking about fireworks season until it’s already upon us! Hopefully these tips still help – my dog is getting better year on year 🙂

      Reply
  4. It might now be too late for bonfire night but New Years is still 2 and a half months away so it’s still worth putting in the work

    Reply

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