Dogs and fireworks do not mix. Many dogs are afraid of fireworks. Noise phobia is a fairly common fear for dogs. This phobia can include thunderstorms and fireworks. Dogs tend to find the loud, unpredictable noises and bright displays of light truly frightening. Even a seemingly confident dog can tremble at the unfamiliar sounds of fireworks. The good news is that there are a few things you can do to help your dog get through the festivities.
Desensitize Your Dog to the Sound of Fireworks
If you have some time before the 4th of July or an anticipated fireworks display in your neighborhood, you can begin teaching your dog to remain calm in response to the sounds. This is referred to as desensitization. A few simple steps may help.
- Find a video or recording of fireworks.
- Play the video or recording at the lowest possible volume a few times during the day.
- Pair the sound of the fireworks with things your dog likes, such as treats, meals, cuddle time, or a game of tug-of-war.
- Slowly begin to raise the volume of the recording or video over the course of several days, and continue to pair the sound of fireworks with good things for your dog.
- If at any point your dog begins to show signs of fear, turn the volume down to a point where he feels more comfortable.
- Repeat this several times each day until your dog can hear the sounds of the fireworks at a fairly high volume without becoming fearful.
Know that a recording of fireworks is still not the same as the real thing. However, playing the recording in this manner may help reduce the fear and anxiety caused by fireworks.
Help Ease Your Dog's Fears
If you don't have time to prepare for the fireworks, or if desensitization hasn't ended your dog's fear of fireworks completely, there are other ways to help. These things may help with dogs who have a mild to moderate fear of fireworks.
- Don't change your behavior. Many people feel compelled to try to soothe their dogs when the dog is showing signs of fear. We pet them more than usual, cuddle them, and talk to them in soft voices. Rather than easing a dog's fears, however, this often reinforces the dog's fearful behaviors. By giving a fearful dog extra attention, you are actually validating and rewarding the fearful behavior.
- Try not to react to the fireworks yourself. If you jump or tense up when you hear fireworks, you may make your dog's fear worse. Your body language may tell your dog that there is a real reason to be afraid.
- Drown out the sound of the fireworks. Try to turn up the radio or television and keep your windows closed during the fireworks. A white noise generator, fan or air conditioner (if your dog isn't afraid of those sounds) can help, too. Noise blocking ear muffs for dogs are also available.
- Don't push your dog past his comfort zone. Allow him to hide if he feels more comfortable in his crate or under a bed. Don't pull him out or try to force him closer to the fireworks in an attempt to get him used to the sounds. This may result in an increase in fear, and a frightened dog may become aggressive if pushed past his comfort level.
Dealing With a Dog's Severe Fear of Fireworks
In the case of a severe phobia, there may be nothing you can do on your own to ease your dog's fear. If your dog exhibits this high level of fear, talk to your veterinarian about options like medication. Your vet may be able to prescribe an anti-anxiety medication or sedative to keep your dog calm during the fireworks.
Medication may be the only answer to get your dog through the fireworks this season. However, you can begin preparing for the future with a program of desensitization. A trainer or behaviorist can also be very helpful. In severe cases, you may not ever be completely successful in eradicating the phobia, but you may be able to ease some of your dog's fear.
Leave the Dog at Home
Whether or not your dog acts frightened of fireworks, it's always best to leave him at home if you are going to see fireworks. A frightened dog may attempt to run away and seek shelter if forced to attend a fireworks display. Many animal shelters report a high rate of lost pet incidents around July 4th.
While you are gone, your dog should be kept in a safe, escape-proof space (like his crate or a comfortable room). If possible, put on some kind of white noise to drown out the sound of nearby fireworks.
Edited by Jenna Stregowski, RVT