Desensitising your dog to fireworks

Happy New Year, I hope you have had an enjoyable festive season.

If you had to deal with your dog becoming stressed by fireworks you might be feeling relieved that it is over!

However now is the perfect time to tackle this problem and start implementing techniques to improve their experience for next time.

Kelly Armstrong

It is possible to greatly reduce firework phobia in many dogs by using a desensitisation programme. However this needs to be started long before they will be subjected to the real thing again.

Up to 47 per cent of the canine population has a phobia of certain noises. In some cases this may be a minor issue, but with others it can be extreme. 

A variety of noises may cause anxiety including thunderstorms, fireworks, vacuums, construction noises, gunshots and smoke alarms. 

Symptoms include uncontrolled urinating and defecating, hiding, excessive panting or salivation, chewing, vocalisation, trembling, pacing, dilated pupils, digging, trying to escape such as jumping out of windows and seeking out their owner.

Desensitisation involves the introduction and gradual increase of noise in order to reduce the dog’s stress response.

The aim is to teach the dog to stay calm when hearing low volume recordings of the source of fear such as firework noise. CDs with fireworks (and other) recordings have been created especially for this. Over time the volume can be slowly increased, allowing the dog to develop tolerance and not react to the noise. The process begins with playing the CD at a low level at regular intervals and repeating this over a period of time until no reaction is noted. If the dog becomes stressed or anxious, stop the recording immediately and reduce the volume again.

Once you are able to safely increase the noise of the CD and the dog no longer reacts, counter conditioning can begin. This involves teaching the dog to associate the noise with a pleasant, positive experience such as a toy or food. 

Desensitising can allow dogs to cope far better with real fireworks, though some may still need a little help to keep calm and they should still not be taken near fireworks or firework displays. 

Our veterinary nursing team are happy to give you guidance on noise phobias and how to desensitise your dog.