When our family got a Labrador puppy for Christmas, one of the things we all looked forward to was going on adventures with our new puppy over the summer. The second the weather was right and the sun was out, we went camping with our puppy (who had grown a fair amount by then)
Everything was going perfectly and we were all having a good time up until we lit a campfire. While the entire family was getting close and warm, our puppy ran away the second the twigs started crackling.
I was sure the fire was what scared the dog away, and I didn’t want that to happen again.
That’s when I started researching, and I found out that it’s a common problem with a couple of solutions. And I’ll be sharing those solutions with you in this article. Read on to learn more.
Why Is My Dog Scared Of Campfires?
While not all dogs have a fear of fire, there are a lot of them out there that will dart the second they hear crackling flames. There are a lot of reasons for this and it’s completely natural. Fire is naturally destructive and it can be instinctive for most animals to be wary of it.
That being said, there are a couple more reasons dogs are scared of fires which we’ll get into in the next section.
Common Reasons Dogs Are Scared Of Campfires
As mentioned earlier, it’s natural for a dog to be scared of fire. This is because out in nature, fire can be destructive.
It can destroy habitats, as well as burn and cause damage to them. That’s why their ancestors, wolves, are naturally scared of fire as well.
And since dogs descended from there, it’s easy to see how that instinct was passed down.
The Sound Can Scare Them Away
It’s no secret that dogs are scared of loud sounds. That’s why the 4th of July and New Years’ Eve can be a very troubling time for them.
The same goes for campfires. They can crackle at unpredictable rates and volumes. Dogs have very sensitive ears so this can irritate and scare them off.
It Can Get Too Hot
If a dog gets too close to a fire, it can be too hot for them. The same way when humans stay too close to the fire they start feeling a burning sensation on their skin.
This can be amplified in dogs and while they might like the warmth, if things get too hot they might not react to it too well which causes them to freak out and run away.
It Isn’t Something They Are Used To
Dogs can sense when a fire is threatening their space or their home. But while it is something they can sense, it isn’t something they are necessarily used to.
Experiencing something new like this can be stressful for a dog, and if they think their family is in danger, they will react appropriately and bark, pace back and forth and even run away from the fire.
Signs Your Dog Is Scared Of The Campfire
Since not all dogs are scared of fires, it can be tough to spot when a campfire is scaring or stressing out your dog. Here are a couple of things to look out for.
- Growling Or Barking At A Fire
- Pacing Back And Forth
- Your Dog Starts Licking Its Lips
- Your Dog’s Back Hair Stands Up
- Running Away Or Hiding From The Fire
- Pawing At You
4 Ways To Comfort Your Dog During A Campfire
If you think your dog doesn’t enjoy or is scared of campfires, that doesn’t mean you have to panic. While it can be worrisome, there are a couple of things you can do to comfort your dog during a campfire.
Know The Signs
The first thing you have to do is keep an eye out for when your dog is feeling uncomfortable. That way, you can have a rough idea of its stress levels.
Most dogs have different ways of showing their discomfort, some bark, some whine, some growl, some pace back and forth, and some paw at you.
The best way to understand the signs is to spend a lot of time with your dog and get familiar with what he or she does when frightened.
Distract Your Dog
If your dog starts freaking out because of a fire, distracting it might help it out a bit. There are a lot of ways you can distract a dog, but the best way to do it is first understanding the things your dog likes.
If your dog loves playing fetch, try throwing a tennis ball.
If your dog has a favorite toy, considering giving it that when it starts getting scared. There is no such thing as “rewarding” fear in dogs, so don’t hesitate to give your pet his favorite toy when you notice it getting scared.
This is one of the easiest and simplest ways to comfort a dog. Dogs love being petted and hugged by their owners. So simply showing your dog some physical affection when you notice it getting scared might be the best solution.
If you see that your dog is feeling uncomfortable and starts acting out beside the campfire trying calming it down by petting it and speaking comforting words like “it’s okay” in a soft voice.
Offer A Time Out
Another reason your dog could be scared of fire is that it’s being over-stimulated. After all, they can feel, hear, see, and smell the fire. If that’s the case, the best solution would be a time out to give the dog time to calm down.
If you’re in the middle of a campfire and your dog starts freaking out, try pulling it to the side, away from the people and the fire, and comforting it. You’ll be surprised at how well a simple time out works for dogs.
Can You Train A Dog To Overcome Its Fear Of Campfires?
Yes, you can! A lot of people out there claim that you shouldn’t pet or comfort your dog when it’s scared because that “encourages’ ‘ the fear. Don’t believe that. Dog fears do not work like that.
The best way to guide a dog through its fears is to approach it calmly and slowly. To do this, you have to introduce the fear in a calm and controlled environment.
For campfires, this could mean doing a mini camping trip in your backyard and lighting a fire there and slowly getting your dog comfortable.
Another thing you can do (this worked best for my family and our dog) is to introduce your dog to fire through a video. You can play a video of a campfire in front of you and your dog so that your dog familiarizes itself with the sight and sound of a fire.
That way, you don’t overload your dog’s senses either.
The most important thing to remember is to go through things slowly. It will take time for a dog to overcome its fear of a campfire the same way it takes a while for humans to overcome their fears.
Be patient with your dog and remain calm. Not only is that the most effective way to go about things, but it will also reduce the stress that can come with training a dog.
How To Keep Your Dog Safe Around A Campfire
Here are a couple of campfire safety tips that will keep your dog safe while you’re warming up next to the fire.
Create A Safe Space
Dogs are den animals. So they feel very comfortable in small and cozy spaces that are their own.
Creating a safe and comfortable space for a dog to relax and calm down is very important when around a campfire or fireworks. Sometimes personal space is all a dog will need to remain calm.
Give Your Dog Exercise
Before you light the fire and enjoy the evening with your family, make sure your dog has exhausted its energy for the day. That means making sure it’s active throughout the day. This could mean playing fetch, running around, or even just going on a walk with your dog.
This will keep your pet calm and more relaxed in the evening.
If your dog is full of energy when you light a campfire, it might cause it to be restless and not relax, and an anxious dog around a campfire can be dangerous.
Keep A Collar And ID Tag On Your Dog
Even if you do everything to keep your dog safe and calm, you can never be too careful.
Dogs can sometimes be unpredictable and just dart off into the forest if they start getting scared of a campfire.
This is no cause to panic, but having a collar (a tracking collar would work really well) and ID Tag on your dog would be a great extra precaution to take.
Prepare Food And Water
Dogs in distress tend to pant. This can dehydrate them, which is why it’s important that your dog has access to water. That way, they can also calm themselves down by drinking some water.
Having food or treats on hand could also be a way to calm your dog down if it starts panicking.
Can I Still Enjoy A Campfire Even If My Dog Is Scared?
Of course, you can! But you have to make sure your dog is feeling okay first.
If you can’t calm your dog down while it’s around the fire, try giving it some time out or putting it in a safe space with your dog’s favorite toys in an area that isn’t too close to the fire.
Can Dogs Be Around Bonfires?
Yes, they can. If they remain calm, there’s no reason they can’t be. However, if your dog doesn’t like campfires, it’s best not to keep them too close to it as that can be very dangerous.
Is Campfire Smoke Bad For Dogs?
Smoke from a fire can be harmful to dogs too. Make sure they don’t get too close to the smoke or inhale too much of it.
A good way to judge things is to ask yourself if the smoke is irritating you. If it’s irritating for you, it’s probably irritating for the dog as well.
That is about all I had to know when my dog was scared of campfires. After learning all these things, I took a deep breath, set a schedule, and approached things slowly.
I introduced the dog to bonfires really slowly, starting with videos and slowly making our way up to hanging out around a campfire.
And now the whole family (including our dog) has a great time when we light a campfire! It made our camping trips much more enjoyable and stress-free!
And if you remember to be patient with your furry friend, you’ll have them relaxed around the campfire just like you in no time.