Having a Dog with a Firework Phobia
Most of the blogs I have written about my dogs Poppy and Ralph are usually an attempt at a (hopefully) amusing take on dog ownership, but this is a bit more serious. Like many dogs, office dog Poppy is terrified of Fireworks, and given the time of year I thought I would share with you how our family has coped with Poppy’s phobia, and what we’ve found helped.
Every dog is different, and this blog is by no means intended to give advice about how others should deal with an anxious or nervous dog. Our blog post on Firework Night advice from the RSPCA is worth a look if you’re interested in what the experts recommend this time of year.
Poppy is a pretty brave dog. Like many owners of terriers will tell you, their small size means nothing to them. She will take on the biggest dog in the world if they’re not minding their manners – and she’ll chase off every cat or squirrel that dares to step into her territory. When she’s not chasing squirrels or tennis balls, she’s happiest when she is curled up on your lap or bundled under all of her dog blankets. She’s always looking for the warmest spot in the house, and she practically slow-roasts herself when she lies in front of the fireplace in the winter!
Loud noises however, make her an entirely different dog. Thunder and fireworks are the worst culprits, and through the years she has adapted many different ways of responding to the noise. Poppy is now eleven, and although noises still make her stressed, she’s nowhere near as upset by fireworks as she used to be. When Poppy was younger she used to try to jump onto anything high up when she heard a bang – an open drawer, the table, a step ladder – the higher the better. This was obviously of great concern to us, as being a small dog she could easily fall and hurt herself. We’d take all routes to high objects away – chairs would be moved away from the table, and any rooms we couldn’t rearrange would be shut off. If someone left the room and she couldn’t follow she would frantically scratch at the door. Sometimes she’d do this even if we were in the room with her when she wanted to hide in another area of the house. If we were all in bed and fireworks went off, she would scratch at our bedroom doors until we let her in, but even then she wouldn’t settle – which resulted in a poor night’s sleep for all of us, and a bad day for us humans who couldn’t sleep all day to make up for it!
As a dog owner, it’s incredibly difficult to see your dog like this and not try to comfort them. We’d read up everything we could on the issue – and articles told us that by comforting her, we were rewarding her for being scared of the noise, and reinforcing the behaviour. So we tried all we could to be there for her without mollycoddling her. We’d provide a safe space for her with lots of blankets and her favourite wicker cat bed, so she had a little cave she could hide away in. Yet for whatever reason, Poppy doesn’t have an instinct to hide from the noise. When Poppy hears a loud bang from a Firework her panic makes her hyper-alert and she cannot settle for some hours after.
The best thing by far to manage Poppy’s fear was to have constant household noise that she was used to, so she wasn’t startled by an initial bang. We’d have the radio on through the night, and keep the TV on a higher volume level than usual. It might be that she’s getting a little deaf in her old age, but she has been a lot better since we adopted this approach. If she doesn’t recognise a sudden bang, she can sleep through it.
Of course, one of the biggest struggles faced by dog owners is that you can set off fireworks any time of year – so although we can plan ahead for local displays, there are always occasions when we are caught off-guard and she becomes nervous and afraid. In addition to this, no amount of background noise can cover the loud sound of a screeching firework being set off a few houses down! Luckily, this isn’t a behaviour that three-year-old Ralph has acquired, but dog’s behavioural habits can suddenly change, so we’re always cautious with Ralph during firework season too.
We’ve got our plan for firework night this year – blankets, noise distraction and drawn curtains. The RSPCA’s advice was definitely helpful and worth considering, and also backed up what we’ve read previous years. Hopefully we’ll enjoy a relatively stress-free firework night this year, and we hope you do too!