Imagine you’re at home. It’s winter and you’ve been out all day wandering the town you know so well. You met up with some friends, had lunch, went to the park. The perfect day. You’re tired from the day’s adventures, and you’re at home at night enjoying the roaring fire your friend put on for you. You’re curled up, drifting in and out of sleep, surrounded by your favourite people and things.
Suddenly: BANG! You’re awoken by a noise that feels like it’s splitting your ears, like it’s in the room with you. You’re immediately alert and on your feet, but your friends don’t move a muscle and act like nothing happened. You sit for a while, your ears ringing, alert and scared. Nothing until…
BANG! Another one, this time accompanied by a blinding white light coming through the curtains. You’re terrified. What was it? Is it a threat? Is something coming to get you? You scream but you’re quickly scolded and told to be quiet.
At Bonfire Night, this is a dogs reality.
As they can detect noise up to four times further away than humans, fireworks are one of the biggest stressors for dogs. A Dog’s Trust survey found that up to 49% of dogs are negatively affected by fireworks.
Unfortunately for them, fireworks are a common way of celebrating. Whether it’s Bonfire Night, New Year’s Eve, Independence Day or Chinese New Year, there are multiple days throughout the year that dogs become frightened by loud bangs.
While thunderstorms also scare dogs, fireworks are different in that they’re very sudden and hard to anticipate. With thunder and lightning there’s a lot of telltale signs that your pet can pick up on, such as high winds and barometric temperature.
We’re going to explore how our four-legged friends view fireworks and give you some tips on how to keep them safe and happy as we head into the holiday season.
Meet our experts
Heather Thomas, MSc Clinical Animal Behaviourist
We worked with Heather Thomas, a qualified behaviourist and dog trainer who has over a decade of experience with dog handling and behaviour.
Heather has become an advocate in the industry helping out various authorities and regulatory bodies with writing standards and protocols for the animal industry and assisting with other businesses and companies to help educate and inspire others in the world of animal behaviour. Heather’s approach is kind, force free and scientifically up-to-date.
Dr Deborah Wells, Reader in Psychology and Animal Welfare
Dr Wells is a clinical psychologist at The School of Psychology at Queen’s University Belfast. Deborah has extensively looked into the effects of auditory stimulation in dogs through experiments she’s conducted and research papers.
As part of the project, Dr Wells outlined the types of sounds and music that dogs respond positively to based on previous research in the area. This helped guide us in curating our lo-fi mix to ensure that the elements used may help dogs to become less stimulated and agitated in times of stress.
How dogs perceive fireworks
Dogs don’t experience the world exactly the way we do. Things that we see as mundane or common experiences, dogs could see as a threat. Fireworks are one of those things. While we see them as exciting and celebratory as we know we’re not in danger, dogs don’t have the same context and see them as terrifying.
Imagine if you’d never experienced anything like a firework before, and then out of nowhere, with no warning you see a bright flash of light through the window and a loud bang. Anyone would be scared.
Dogs have an acute sense of hearing, hearing sounds from over 4 times further away than humans, so the loud and sudden explosions of fireworks are not only startling but can be painfully loud. The bright lights and vibrant colours look appealing to us, but can be overwhelming for a pup and lead to fear and confusion.
"From your dog’s perspective, they don’t understand what a firework is. All they see and hear is a loud bang and a flash of light, which is enough to scare anyone.
One of the biggest reasons they find them so stressful is that fireworks are unpredictable. We have no way of telling our dogs that fireworks are about to start, or explaining what they really are. Dogs like routine and predictability and they simply can’t foresee fireworks.
Dogs perceive fireworks as a threat, so when they experience them they instantly go into a defensive mode which means that their heart rate increases and they go into fight or flight. This means that they’ll either run and hide, or start to bark. Either way the experience is incredibly stressful for dogs and in turn a horrible experience for any pup parent.
Watch out for signs that your dog is scared as not all dogs are. This can look like restlessness, panting, drooling, tail tucked under, toileting inappropriately, digging or trying to hide, yawning, self-mutilation, not eating and becoming withdrawn. It can take some dogs days or weeks to get over the trauma. At the end of the day you know your pet better than anyone. Keep a close eye on them and try your best to alleviate their stress.”
Now we know that dogs perceive fireworks in a starkly different way to humans, we wanted to look at them through a dogs eyes. Knowing they see fireworks as a potential threat, how might a dog imagine them to look like?
To do this, we employed the help of the AI image generation MidJourney to imagine what a firework could look like from a dog’s perspective. It’s safe to say that the results are terrifying:
Calming Canine Beats: The ultimate lofi dog playlist
We care about making sure pups are comfortable during these stressful times of the year. To help dogs when the fireworks start popping, we consulted with a dog behaviourist to create a lofi mix specifically for your frightened pup.
According to research, dogs enjoy slow bpm rate music to help them calm down. In 2005, Dr. Susan Wagner, a board-certified veterinary neurologist, found that solo piano music created according to psychoacoustic principles—with slower tempos and simple arrangements and sounds—was more effective in reducing anxiety than popular classic music.
We consulted a clinical psychologist with a focus on domestic dogs to help curate the perfect lofi mix.
“The research points to classical music having a calming effect on dogs, at least within the confines of the kennel environment. Our own studies, and those by others, have shown reductions in behaviours suggestive of agitation such as reduced barking and pacing, and increases in behaviours more associated with good welfare such as resting upon exposure to a wide variety of classical compositions.
We don’t really know for sure why dogs respond so positively to classical music, although there is the possibility that there is something inherently ‘enriching’ about the genre. This could result in biochemical changes such as increased dopamine or serotonin production, which can help to put an individual into a more favourable state of mind.
Low pitched tracks seem to be perceived less favourably by dogs, encouraging more alert and active behaviours. Research also points to heavy metal music having a detrimental effect on the welfare of dogs housed in kennels, encouraging behaviours typically associated with agitation, such as increased barking and pacing.
There is some evidence to suggest that some dogs may benefit from noise therapy in the form of desensitisation – essentially gradually conditioning dogs to cope more favourably to the sound of recorded fireworks. There is nothing as yet, however, to support the role of music in alleviating stress in dogs exposed to fireworks, although this is certainly an area well worth exploring.”
Now we know the types of music that dogs respond well to, namely classical music with piano notes, we created a lofi mix for both humans and dogs to enjoy.
The lofi tracks lean heavily on the classical genre that’s proven to keep dogs calm and relaxed. We made sure to use a piano as our main instrument, as others can cause adverse reactions in dogs such as wind instruments like clarinets and saxophones proven to make them howl. The tracks were created at a low tempo, and low bpm to mimic a dogs heart rate when they’re resting. No voices were used to make sure dogs were not distracted or mistook it for a stranger in their home.
Give it a whirl and see how your dog responds:
For the best results, play the video in the late afternoon before the fireworks begin. This will help your dog get used to the music. Close your curtains, and turn the music up to a comfortable level, not enough to drown out the fireworks, but enough to encompass the room.
While your dog may still respond to the fireworks minimally, the music will help them calm down much sooner. It’s recommended that you stay with your dog during this stressful time, so that they don’t make the music synonymous with you leaving them alone.
8 ways to keep your dog calm this fireworks season
There’s plenty you can do to help your dog through this hard time. While you can teach your dog to slowly become more used to fireworks, not everyone has the time to do this, or their dog might be too old already.
Heather Thomas gives us eight tips to follow to keep your dog calm when there are fireworks present:
1. Create a safe haven
Create a comfy den for your furry friend to rest that is furthest away from doors and windows. Keep the windows closed and blinds shut within that room and use treats to create a positive association with the crate or den before firework night- give them lots of chews, lickable toys and other toys while they are there.
2. Play calming music
It’s proven that dogs relax when listening to certain types of music. This will help drown out the sound of those fireworks making them more bearable. Don’t just play music when your dog is home alone. Play it also when you are home so they don’t associate music with you leaving the house. This can increase stress rather than soothing them.
3. Walk them earlier
Tire your dog out by walking them earlier in the day. This will also help to prevent them being outdoors in the evenings. Make sure you check the times for large local firework displays so you can walk them when there are no stressors.
4. Keep the house secure
Make sure your pet is safe by locking gates and doors to prevent any escape. Animals that are worried are more likely to try to run away and there are often reports of dogs who have bolted after hearing fireworks. This can put them in danger.
5. Calming coats and t-shirts
Calming coats and t-shirts apply mild, constant pressure to a dog’s torso, surrounding a dog much like a swaddling cloth on a baby. It’s recommended for dogs with any type of anxiety induced by travel, separation, noise, or stranger anxiety and can help ease stress from fireworks.
6. Physical contact
There is probably nothing more soothing to an anxious dog than its owner’s touch. Try to identify the signs of anxiety in your dog and nip them in the bud as early as possible by picking them up, cuddling on the couch, or giving them a good long petting session. Distracting them works wonders.
7. Don’t take them outside
While it might seem like a good idea to take your pup outside for a walk when there are fireworks around, this is one of the worst things you can do. The dog will likely be more terrified than if they were inside and try to run away. Absolutely never take your dog to a firework show.
8. Pheromone therapy
Pheromone therapy harnesses the subtle chemical signals that dogs emit naturally to communicate with each other. Adaptil can help relieve some of the upset for dogs that are concerned about fireworks by releasing calming and safe messages. You can use collar sprays or plug-ins to help your dog cope.
Although Bonfire Night, and other nights throughout the year including New Year’s, can be incredibly stressful times for your favourite pet, there are still plenty of things you can do to ease their stress. Try out our lofi video and follow our top tips to make this night the chillest night of their lives.
- American Kennel Club. (2022) Why Music is Therapeutic for Dogs – akc.org
- Lori R. Kogan. (2012) Behavioural effects of auditory stimulation on kenneled dogs – sciencedirect.com
- Rachael F. Kinnaird, Deborah L. Wells. (2022) The effect of auditory stimulation on kenneled dogs – sciencedirect.com
- Dog’s Trust. (2022) Fireworks: Research dogstrust.org.uk
- Susan Wagner. (2010) The effects of sound and music on our patients and workplace – dvm360.com