Firework Phobia

In Canada, July 2 is one of the busiest days for your local SPCA. This is the day after Canada Day and SPCA agencies across Canada will be flooded with calls from worried pet owners looking for their dogs. Each caller will have a similar story: “Fluffy got spooked by the fireworks at bolted out the front door!” “I left Rex in the yard while I went to the Canada Day BBQ and fireworks and when I came back he was gone!” “I had Fido at the park and the fireworks started. He slipped out of his collar and bolted.” Fear of fireworks is a common phobia for dogs. They are loud, unpredictable bursts of light in the sky. The sound often echoes for miles. We can’t begin to understand what a dog ears, sees or smells when there is a firework show happening. With summertime in full swing, firework displays will be a common sight and they are often unavoidable. So what happens if your dog is afraid of them? Even the most confident Havanese can become terrified at the first crackle of a firework. Start with desensitizing your Havanese to the noise. Use an app for your smartphone or tablet, or purchase a sound effect CD or even search for a firework video on YouTube. Play the firework track on a very low volume, so it is barely noticeable, multiple times a day. Play it for only one or two minutes at a time. While playing the track, it is important to positively interact with your Havanese. Have some treats handy and go through your Havanese’s trick repertoire, play hide and seek with treats, or simply toss treats on the floor and let them chase after it and find it. As long as you are having positive reactions when the sound effect is playing, gradually increase the volume each day. If you increase the volume one day and notice your Havanese getting fearful, go back one step, turn down the volume to the previous setting until you have the response you want. Remember that several short sessions of this is far better than one big session. If your dog starts to be fearful, don’t coddle them or treat them, as this will only reinforce their fears. If they become fearful, ignore it, turn the volume down and act as if nothing is wrong. Desensitizing your Havanese to fireworks can take weeks or months. What happens if there is a firework show coming up and they are not fully desensitized to the audio you have been playing? Here are some helpful hints to help your Havanese make it through the show: -Take your Havanese on a long walk/run during the day. A tired dog cannot be anxious. They just don’t have the energy for it. -Potty them BEFORE the fireworks start. If they have to go out during the show, take them out ON LEASH. Don’t let leave them outside in the yard in hopes that “if they can see the fireworks, they won’t be as scared”. This is not the case and it will almost certainly cause them to bolt out of the yard. They should be wearing a collar with ID tags on it, just in case they get loose. -Be sure you and your family members are not making a big deal about the fireworks. Dogs are amazing at reading body language and picking up on nervous tension, if you act calm and relaxed, your dog will pick up on those cues too. -Distract them with a bone or food dispensing toy (Like a KONG). Make sure the treats are EXTRA appealing. - Close windows/blinds - Turn up Tv/radio to help drown out the noise or plug in a fan -Allow your Havanese to hide. Be sure that he has access to his crate or bed, but if he wants to crawl into the bathtub or under the bed if that is where he feels safe, let him. Don’t force your Havanese out of their chosen hidden place as it can make them extremely fearful and in some cases can cause fear based aggression. -Use a Thunder Shirt or anxiety wrap to help ease severe anxiety (look up how to use a tensor bandage to make a Tellington Touch anti-anxiety wrap on YouTube) - Use a Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) plug in diffuser (available from vet clinics). The DAP diffusers are calming pheromones the dogs can smell, but humans cannot. - Talk to your vet about using Rescue Remedy drops, L-Theanin or Melatonin. Only in the most severe cases should a prescription drug be considered. If your Havanese used to be able to handle fireworks and has recently began becoming stressed and anxious when he hears them, it may be age related. Many aging dogs who have slight hearing loss will become sensitive to loud noises. Consistency, forethought and preparation will help you be able make your Havanese more comfortable with fireworks, a summertime staple in Canada.

Authored by: 
Claire Paulson