14 tips for keeping your dog calm during fireworks on bonfire night

Bonfire night has, in recent years, turned into Bonfire week, with people setting off bangers from October 31 all the way through to the weekend after November 5.

This can be a really tough time for some dogs who struggle with the loud noises and bright lights through the window. Our previous staffie, Lyla, would destroy the living room in a bid to crawl under the sofa during displays – even making herself sick.

With professional displays cancelled due to Covid-19, this means that more and more people – often inexperienced – will be setting off home displays. That means your nearest fireworks display could literally be in your neighbour’s garden.

IMDT accredited dog trainer and Pro Dog Trainer Michelle Caisley, from Freddie and Friends, has revealed some top tips to keep your dog calm on the night, and even prevent them from being scared of fireworks. Freddie – Michelle’s plummer terrier – is one of the Friends of Scamps, and is amazing at agility and brain games.

1. Don’t walk your dog in the evening

To avoid unexpected fireworks, Michelle says: “Forget about late afternoon or evening walks – it won’t kill them to miss out. Exercise your dog early in the day if possible.”

2. Chip check and ID on the collar

Make sure your dogs chip details are up to date and their ID tag is on their collar. Some dogs may bolt out of the door if, for example, a firework goes off just as you’re collecting a parcel from the postie. Similarly, if you have decided to go on a walk after tea, a firework could spook your pooch.

3. Long lasting chews

Michelle recommends long lasting chews to tire them out. We love buffalo horns or Anco roots for this. Michelle said: “Long lasting chews are amazing to tire your dog out. For dogs not too bothered about the bangs, give them to them while the noise is happening to create a positive response to the sounds.
“For dogs too scared to think about eating when the fireworks are going off give them chews during the day to tire them out so hopefully they will be tired and sleep through it.”

4. Brain games

Another way to tire your pet out so they’ll sleep through the displays is to use brain training – a method that Michelle uses a lot at Freddie and Friends. She said: “Puzzle or slow feeders tire them out. Kongs, Lickimats, snuffle mats, snuffle boxes or hiding their dinner/toys around the house all tire out those brains. These are great to do if you are at work and can’t exercise them much in the day.”

5. Warm house = sleepy dogs

Crank up that thermostat or whack the fire on. Michelle recommends getting out the blankets and get cosy for the night. A warm and relaxing atmosphere will help your pet feel safer – and who doesn’t love a snooze in a warm room after their tea?

6. Drown out the sound

Put the TV or radio on and drown out the sound, and crank that volume up to mask the sound of the fireworks. Similarly to this, to help desensitise Phoebe to fireworks, we would play fireworks noises on the TV from September, and gradually let it get louder each week. My dad also plays games like Call of Duty with lots of loud bangs that may help desensitise your dog to sounds.

7. Relaxing lavender

Who doesn’t love a lavender pillow spray or roll on to relax? It’s natural calming properties will help soothe your pet during the stressful fireworks period. Michelle suggests a room spray or lavender scented wax melts. Another great idea is calming treats like the Lily’s kitchen bedtime biscuits, or the Pooch and Mutt calm and relax.

8. Cover the windows

The bright flashes can be as frightening as the bangs. Close the blinds, draw the curtains, or even put blankets up to block out the light. If your pet likes their crate, also cover this with a blanket to help them feel secure.

9 Pop on a lead

Michelle said: “Unless your garden is super secure put their leads on when letting them out before bed. Even dogs not scared of fireworks can become scared if they’re mid wee and one goes off! So many dogs go missing at this time of year after being scared by fireworks. Being over cautious if fine if it keeps your dogs safe.”

10. Make fireworks fun!

But how? By giving them a jackpot reward when they go off. Michelle said: “For young dogs new to fireworks, for dogs that are fine with them and for those that are just a bit worried by the noises – make them a positive experience.”
Imagine it’s a drinking game, but instead of taking a shot for every scary bang, give your dog something they really love, like peanut butter or cheese!
Michelle added: “You hear a bang and something tasty appears. Think cheese, chicken or sausage. We want a positive emotional response to the noise.”

11. Dorwest Herbs

Local independent pet store Hounds are a Dorwest stockist and will always be happy to help work out what supplements your pet needs. Michelle recommends Scullcap and Valerian compound for this time of year.
Dorwest recommend starting the tablets 10 days before Bonfire night, and double it the night before. They say: “Split the daily recommended number of Dorwest Scullcap & Valerian Tablets across AM and PM and double this amount on the day that a scary event is anticipated. Don’t forget to have our Valerian Compound for Dogs ready to give as a fast-acting top-up, if needed.
“For situations where you are ‘caught-out’, for example, thunderstorms or an unexpected fireworks display, our liquid Valerian Compound for Dogs is a great short-term and quicker-acting option.”

12. Play time

Michelle said: “If they’re not too scared, play a fun game with them, again making the bangs something positive. Of course all dogs will be different so if they don’t want to play then that’s fine.”

13. Cuddles are okay

Some people say you shouldn’t cuddle a dog that’s frightened of fireworks, but Michelle busts that myth. She said: “It’s okay to cuddle them if they want a cuddle. Years ago people said don’t cuddle them you’ll make them worse. We now know that’s not true and in fact, you can’t reinforce fear. I’d say that you being calm is the best thing as if you’re anxious they might pick up on that, but if they want comfort give them comfort. Don’t overly fuss but do what you need to do to help them out.”

14. Beware the day after

Michelle said: “Dogs that are scared by fireworks can spook at noises days after the event. If they’re off lead on a walk the next day and they hear a bang in the distance that’s not even related to fireworks they could bolt. Use a long line, make sure they have a tag on and check that chip is up to date!
“For those dogs that nothing seems to work do what you can to help them and then please contact me for training to help you prepare for next year. Just think that next year things could be different.”
For more dog training tips, follow Freddie and Friends on Instagram.