Dogs and Fireworks

Why are dogs scared of Fireworks?

If you know many people with dogs or have had a few in your life then you have probably known at least one that doesn’t like fireworks. When it gets around to autumn you’ll hear lots of frustrated people wishing that fireworks were banned as it can be so distressing for so many dogs. (If your dog does struggle also check out our blog on helping them manage through fireworks here).

But this normalising of a fear of fireworks can actually do damage itself. It makes many people give up, feeling that there is nothing that they can do and that it’s just the way things are. Whereas there are a lot of options for helping dogs, but more importantly there are a lot of causes of fear of fireworks that might also need separate treatment.

So if you do have a dog who is struggling around loud noises; do you know why they are scared? It’s likely to be one, or more, of the reasons below and they all have slightly different treatments.

    1. Pain. If a dog was previously ok with a noise and now they no longer are this is a huge red flag for pain. Chronic pain is hugely under diagnosed in dogs with estimated over 30% of one year old dogs having arthritis. Pain makes us grumpy pessimists but additionally with noises if we startle with joint pain it can really hurt. Dogs can then associate this pain with the noise and begin to really fear the noise. A noise phobia that is worsening should definitely been seen by your vet to discuss a pain relief trial.
    1. Bad experiences. Sometimes we don’t know the specific trigger but dogs who were fine with a noise that overnight have a negative reaction to are likely to have suffered a traumatic event. A common cause of this is the fire alarm going off when the dog is home alone, they would be really scared and probably sore from such a persistent loud noise and learn that noises are terrifying. Other traumatic events like a road traffic incident, a firework going off very close by to them or a noise associated with another trigger they already found difficult could be in this category too. These cases need a lot of work on specific triggers to help them learn that it is manageable.
    1. Limited habituation. If a dog hasn’t experienced noises in their life, especially dogs with very limited life experiences, or high genetic anxiety, such as ones held in puppy farms, then anything new is more likely to been interpreted as a threat. For these dogs lots of new things might be scary such as a plastic bag blowing in the wind or the bins being out for collection. Noises just go into the same category of “unknown and therefore likely to be dangerous”. These dogs need lots of general confidence building work to improve their optimism.

So a fear of fireworks, or other noises, can affect any dog. Even dogs who have previously been absolutely fine with them. But that doesn’t mean it is normal. And definitely shouldn’t be accepted. We can make things much better for you and your dog.

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