Dogs and fireworks

October 29, 2019

As fun as fireworks are, many dogs are scared by the loud bangs, whizzes, fizzes and flashing lights. This means that at certain times of the year – such as Bonfire Night, New Year’s Eve and Diwali – things can get a bit stressful for dogs… and owners. Here’s what you can do to calm your dog during fireworks. 

Why are dogs scared of fireworks? 

Put yourself in your dog’s paws. You’re enjoying a nice walk in the park or maybe you’re snoozing in your bed indoors, when suddenly… BOOM! The sky is ablaze with bright lights and there’s a series of loud bangs. 

A fireworks display can be exciting to watch but they are also loud and unpredictable. They make us jump if we’re caught off guard but for a dog their instinct is to run. This can be highly dangerous for dogs that are scared by fireworks when being exercised. There are sadly too many stories about dogs that have run into the road and been injured or killed by a car

According to the RSPCA, 45 per cent of dogs in the UK are scared of fireworks. That’s a lot of dogs that will be feeling stressed on key occasions every year. But there are things you can do to help your dog. 

Why do we celebrate bonfire night and use fireworks? 

Fireworks are commonly associated in the UK with the failed plot of Guy Fawkes. In 1605 he used a large amount of gunpowder in an attempt to blow up the King and the Houses of Parliament. Members of the public celebrated this failed plan by lighting bonfires around London, a tradition which continues today. 

However, fireworks have held a place in history since the reign of Elizabeth I. Such was her love of fireworks that her Royal Highness appointed a ‘Firemaster’ to oversee royal displays. 

Today, fireworks are widely used to commemorate or celebrate special events, from Bonfire Night and New Year’s Eve, to wedding celebrations and family gatherings. 

The law on fireworks in the UK

There are strict laws in the UK about buying and selling of fireworks. First, you must be over 18 to buy them. Secondly, it is illegal to set them off after 11pm and before 7am, except for certain occasions. These are Bonfire Night, when fireworks are allowed until midnight, New Year’s Eve and Diwali and Chinese New Year, when they are allowed until 1am. Fireworks can only be sold at certain times of the year; for example, in the run up to Bonfire Night. 

Petition to ban fireworks

There has been a growing movement, both in the UK and abroad, to reduce or end the use of fireworks. In 2018, a UK government petition to ban the sale of fireworks to the public achieved more than 300,000 signatures. This triggered a debate in the House of Commons. However the government concluded that there was already sufficient legislation in place controlling their sale and use. 

In 2019, Sainsbury’s became the first major retailer to stop selling fireworks – a move that has been welcomed by pet owners. It is hoped that other retailers may follow their example. 

On the continent, a small town in Italy, called Collecchio in the province of Parma, has gone a step further to introduce legislate to protect pets and wildlife. The town allows only silent fireworks to be used. This gives local people peace of mind that they can attend the town’s fireworks display without worrying about their pets. 

Preparing dogs for fireworks

The Dogs Trust, in partnership with vets, has produced a dog sound desensitisation programme for fireworks. This is available as a free download, and comes with a guide on how to use the programme. 

Sound therapy can be introduced to a dog at any age. However it will be most effective if used during a puppy’s socialisation window. This is between the ages of 4-12 weeks. It takes time – in fact several weeks – to desensitise a dog to the sound of fireworks. Therefore it won’t work to start using in the days leading up to Bonfire Night or New Year’s Eve. At this stage, focus on helping your dog to stay calm and get through the event. You can begin sound therapy afterwards in preparation for the next round of fireworks. 

How to calm your dog during fireworks

The advice from animal welfare organisations is to walk dogs during the day during fireworks season. Make sure your dog is wearing a collar and tag and has been microchipped. This is in case they run off and are lost

At home, you can help to calm your dog during fireworks: 

  • Make sure windows and curtains are closed to keep the sound of fireworks to a minimum.
  • Play some music or put the television on at a low level to distract from the sound of fireworks
  • Create a safe space for your dog to hide if they want to. This could be under a bed or behind the sofa. But let them make the choice about where they want to hide. Don’t confine your dog to a single room, as this could make them feel trapped. 
  • Give your dog a long-lasting chew or a Kong to keep them busy during fireworks. 

What can I give my dog for anxiety? 

The signs that your dog is feeling stressed include panting, excessive drooling, licking their lips, yawning, shaking and holding their tail between their legs. Let your dog hide if they want to as this is their way of making themselves feel safe.

Adaptil is a product which can help dogs with fireworks anxiety. It is available as a plug-in or spray, which releases dog-appeasing pheromones and help to keep them calm in stressful situations, such as during fireworks. You can buy Adaptil on-line, from pet shops and vets. Ask your vet for advice if you are not sure what to use. 

And remember, remember, if you’ve got a puppy or you’ve recently moved house with a dog, you might want to let your neighbours know.  Ask them to give you notice if they intend to have fireworks in their garden. That way you can be ready to provide comfort to your dog.