What to do if your dog is scared of fireworks
Fireworks are fun and festive for many people, but for our furry family members, those bright sparkle showers combined with loud bangs and pops might just feel like torture. Dogs often respond to the sensory overload of fireworks with fear and panic, which can put them at risk for more serious issues. If your dog is afraid of fireworks, you can take control and ensure a happy summer for everyone.
Fireworks Anxiety in Dogs
Estimates reveal that between 40 and 80 percent of dogs react to fireworks. If your dog is among them, they may experience:
- Increased alertness
- Flattened ears
- Restlessness or pacing
- Panting and lip-licking
- Shaking and trembling
- Whale eyes
- Extreme vocalization with barking, whining, or howling
- Hiding or attempting to escape the house
Why Are Dogs Scared of Fireworks?
Dogs’ sensitive hearing is often to blame for their fears, but sounds alone aren’t necessarily the primary issue here. Dogs can develop phobias and anxiety responses for many reasons, including:
- Lack of early exposure: Exposing puppies to a variety of stimuli, experiences, and people can help them feel more confident and may help ward off anxiety in adulthood.
- History of fireworks-related trauma: Dogs with negative encounters with loud noises or bright lights can develop phobias for fireworks and thunderstorms.
- Learned behavior: Dogs learn from other dogs, and if you’ve got one dog that’s afraid of fireworks, you’re likely to have several dogs afraid of fireworks.
- Their breed: Some dogs have a genetic predisposition to fearful responses especially around loud noises.
Managing Fireworks Anxiety
Panic disorder is to blame for fireworks anxiety, according to experts. Once a dog’s fight-or-flight system has activated, the dog is no longer in their normal state of mind and is panicking. It can take up to 12 hours for this to return to a baseline, but you can take steps to keep your dog calm, comfortable, and safe.
Planning ahead is vital: The best time to manage dogs and fireworks anxiety is by preparing long before the fireworks start.
If the dog is already panicking, you might have little more to offer them than comfort, which is why you need to work with them well before there’s any risk of fireworks. You can train your dog to ignore fireworks and other loud noises, but the process can take up to six months so you need to start early.
Combine a safe stimulus with a positive interaction when your dog is calm and quiet so that your pup begins to associate the noise with the interaction. Start by playing recordings of fireworks or thunder at a low volume, and pair it with calming music or white noise if necessary. Offer your pup a high-value treat or peanut butter-filled Kong to keep them focused. As your dog becomes more comfortable with the noises, you can increase the volume and praise your pup generously when they display the desired behavior.
You don’t necessarily get early warnings when your neighbors plan to use fireworks, but there are some days when it’s more likely than not that you’ll hear them, like on Juneteenth, Independence Day, and New Year’s Eve. Get a jump start on protecting your dog’s peace by wearing them out early in the day. Try a long hike, a day of play, or even doggy daycare. Tired dogs are less likely to react and more likely to simply snooze through the chaos.
Feed and potty your pup well before nightfall, and once you’re settled in for the night, offer a high-value treat or enjoyable activity, like a new chew, a frozen banana, or a snuffle mat.
Ask for help
If you didn’t have enough time for desensitization or your neighbors are setting off fireworks during the off-season, you need to respond quickly to calm your dog. Talk to your vet about calming supplements or even anti-anxiety medications. Pheromone collars and plug-in devices can also help. If your dog uses their kennel for comfort and security, leave the door open and add a thick blanket over the top to create an even greater sense of security. If your dog approaches you for comfort, offer it freely while staying calm and grounded. If you get upset or anxious yourself, your dog might feed off your emotions and feel worse rather than better.
Independence Day is the worst day for lost dogs. The fight-or-flight response triggers panic that can lead to your dog bolting away from you. Taking some safety precautions can reduce the risk of your dog going missing when fireworks are going off.
- Keep your dog inside where you can keep an eye on them, and don't leave them home alone.
- Double leash your dog during potty trips so the risk of a broken leash is decreased.
- Keep your house safe and your windows secured, and use heavy curtains, blinds, or one-way film to block your dog’s view of the fireworks.
- Update the microchip information to ensure it’s accurate in the event your dog does go missing.
With a few simple steps, you can ensure your dog’s trust in you to keep them safe and healthy is well-earned.