How to keep your dog calm on Bonfire Night during the fireworks

Close-Up Portrait Of Dog Relaxing With Pillows
Is your dog scared of fireworks? Here’s how to help them (Picture: Getty)
November 5 – aka Bonfire Night – can be a cosy winter experience. It’s all mulled wine, warm hats and sparkling firework displays.

Or, you know, it’s a bit annoying. You’re just trying to chill in the house and wind down in front of the TV – but all you can hear outside is incessant banging.

For our beloved dogs , cats and other pets, Bonfire Night isn’t cosy or even just mildly irritating. It can be the most terrifying night of the year – with the loud pops of fireworks seeming like a scary threat.

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As animals tend to have a more acute sense of hearing than humans, just imagine how crazy the sounds must be to them.

According to the RSPCA, roughly 45% of dogs will show signs of fear as soon as they hear them go off. They also aren’t naturally inclined to hide in the same way our feline friends are.
Dog looking spooked by fireworks
Try and take your dog for a walk before the fireworks begin (Picture: Getty Images/ EyeEm)

Realistically, you can’t stop the fireworks going off for your canine pal. That’s totally, frustratingly, out of your control.

But what can you do to keep your pooch calm and ease their worries?

Take them for a walk earlier in the day

It’s best to avoid taking your dog for a walk after dark, as most fireworks get started around 6pm.

Instead of buying special Kong stuffing, stuff a Kong with cheese cubes and place in the microwave for five seconds.

Taking them for a longer walk than usual may also help them feel more drowsy and relaxed once the loud bangs begin.

Muffle the sound of fireworks

The RSPCA recommends closing the windows, doors and curtains in your house to block out the sound of fireworks.

Putting on music or the TV is also a good way to cover up the noise. Owners could also opt to buy ear muffs for their pets.

Create a safe space

It’s important to make sure your pets have somewhere to hide during the fireworks, for example under furniture or in a cupboard.

Find ways to enrich your pet’s environment. Your dog or cat needs your help to stay mentally stimulated. This is important not only to discourage destructive behavior in younger pets, but also to keep your older pet’s brain sharp.

The animal should be able to easily access the area at all times.

Once they’re in their safe space, it’s recommended that owners don’t try to coax them out, as this could add to their stress.

Train your dog to have a ‘doggy safe den’

The RSPCA suggests making a ‘doggy den’ in the quietest room of your house, where your pet can feel calm and totally in control of their surroundings.

It’s crucial the dog associates the den with positive experiences, which owners can do by putting in a comfy bed, lots of toys and a kong full of food.

Make a DIY Dog Sling for Added Support. Does your dog have arthritis or weak limbs? If your dog needs some extra support getting up & around you can make your own dog sling to help.

You can then cover the den with a blanket once the fireworks begin.

terrier dog hiding under a bed.
Make sure you dog has somewhere to feel safe (Picture: Getty)

Owners might want to stay with their dog while they’re in the den – but shouldn’t try and force them to interact if they don’t want to.

Don’t react to the fireworks yourself

Keeping calm around fireworks yourself will help your pets relax in return – but if they’re already scared and coming to you for some reassurance, then comfort them.

‘Comfort your dog if necessary, [but] remain calm though and don’t dramatise the event,’ says Mars Petcare animal behaviourist Dr Tammie King.

Play a Nice Interactive Game of Tug With Your Dog. A 5 minute game of tug works wonders for tiring out your dog & letting him get rid of some of that pent up energy. (and no – it won’t make your dog aggressive despite the old myth)

‘It is a common myth that comforting your dog reinforces their fear and makes them more fearful. This is not true! You would never not comfort/hug a scared child, and the same applies to your pet.’

Dr Rory Cowlam – aka Rory The Vet – says you should wait for them to come to you for a snuggle.

‘Don’t over-reinforce it by looking for your pets,’ he advises. ‘Wait for them to come to you before providing comfort.

Young Woman cuddles her 12 week old Golden Retriever Puppy
If your pup comes to you, comfort them (Picture: Getty)

‘This is important because telling them ‘it’s okay, it’s okay’ may suggest to them that there’s something to worry about.’

Learn how to make your own chicken jerky. Its a healthier alternative to the store-bought kind. Get the directions here.

Don’t punish your pets for being scared

This one goes without saying, doesn’t it? Your dog hasn’t done anything wrong by being scared.

It’ll also only make things much worse in the long run.

Distract with a chewable treat

You know your dog best. What toy can they simply not resist? Perhaps a chewy bone, or a puzzle feeder, is practically guaranteed to keep them busy?

If you can, distracting your dog with positive tasks – like chewing on their favourite treat – is a wise move.

Make sure your dog is in a secure environment

Learn to read your dogs body language. Since no dog I know of is able to mosey up to the kitchen table, pour himself a cup of coffee, and confess to all of the things that annoy, frighten, and stress him out, I suggest that the next best thing is to learn to read your dog’s many signals and body language. This is how your dog will communicate with you.

It’s important to make sure your dog can’t bolt from the house if they hear loud noises.

Dogs are often afraid of fireworks
Make sure your dog can’t bolt during Bonfire Night (Picture: Getty)

Owners should also ensure their pets are microchipped, just in case they do escape.

Get your dog used to loud noises with sound therapy

Sound Therapy 4 Pets is a free treatment programme which owners can download from Dogs Trust online.

The programme contains a collection of specifically recorded noises which can help get puppies used to loud and unpredictable sounds.

Each treatment has been developed by two veterinary surgeons specialising in pet behavioural therapy.

The cheese will melt just enough to stick to the inside of the Kong.

You can also use the programmes to get your dog ready for crying babies, thunder and noisy traffic.

For more information, visit the RSPCA guidelines here.

Consider an anxiety vest for your dog

Dogs and cats wearing anxiety vests
Could an anxiety vest be a last resort? (Picture: Getty)

If you’ve tried everything else, Dr Tammie King suggests purchasing a soothing wrap for your dog.

‘Body wraps (available online and in stores) apply gentle pressure evenly to the body of cats or dogs – much like swaddling an infant – which can help keep animals calm.’

You can view options at Pets At Home.

And as for cats, guinea pigs, rabbits and other pets…

INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: Dogs have a sense of time. It's been proven that they know the difference between a hour and five. If conditioned to, they can predict future events, such as regular walk times.

Keep them indoors! There’s absolutely no need for them to be out on Bonfire Night, adds Rory The Vet.

‘It’s common for cats to get scared and bolt, so it’s always best to keep them in on firework night,’ he advises.

‘Make sure they have a nice and comfortable area to sleep inside. Give them an early dinner to keep them inside and shut curtains to hide flashing lights from outside.

‘Small furry animals such as guinea pigs and rabbits (and pets kept outdoors) must be brought inside overnight. They also get scared by loud bangs and flashing lights and it is known for small furries to die from shock in these instances.’

Train your dog for a lifetime of obedience. Behavior problems are the number one reason dogs are relinquished to animal shelters, the number one reason they don’t find new forever homes, and as a result, the number one reason dogs are euthanized.

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