Dogs and fireworks don't typically mix well. This is because they can confuse, scare and stress out our pups. And if your dog is one of the many that gets agitated, this can make certain holidays, like Fourth of July and Labor Day, a bit rough (not to mention random days people send them off, especially in the summer). Is your dog scared of fireworks? Here are the reasons why and tips on how to keep yours calm during them.
Why Are Dogs Scared Of Fireworks?
There are several reasons why fireworks scare our dogs. Here are the main ones:
- The loud noises - dogs have more acute and sensitive hearing than humans, so the loud cracks and booms of fireworks are amplified for them.
- The unpredictability - dogs thrive off routine and fireworks are the opposite of that. Not only do they seem to come unexpectedly, but the booms and flashing lights are different each time and occur at random intervals.
- The perceived threat - some dogs interpret loud noises, like fireworks, as a threat. When feeling threatened, dogs turn to their fight or flight response, usually trying to run but sometimes barking at the noises.
- The feeling of inescapability - dogs are cursorial animals (adapted specifically to run), which means their primary instinctive response to stresses or threats is flight. Fireworks can trigger the flight response in your dog, but they won't be able to run away from the stress. This can make them feel trapped, removing their ability to respond to stresses in their preferred way and causing further anxiety.
Pro Tip: Because fireworks trigger a dog's flight response, there's a greater risk of them running away. It's best to bring your pup inside for the fireworks show and avoid bringing them to it. Don't let them off-leash outside a fenced-in area and check your fence for openings that your dog could escape through. Also, make sure they are microchipped or wearing identification tags and that the contact information is up-to-date.
Signs Of Anxiety
Although not all dogs exhibit the same signs when anxious, here are some general signs of stress:
- Trembling, shivering or shaking
- Decreased activity
- Tucking their tail between the legs
- Attempting to escape
- Running around
- Urinating or defecating in the house
How To Keep Dogs Calm During Fireworks
Fortunately, there are some ways to help your dog cope with the stress of fireworks.
1. Arrange A Comforting, Safe Space
Whether it's their crate, the bedroom or simply being near you, make sure your dog has a place to be that feels safe. Crate-trained dogs often find comfort in their crates, while others prefer a makeshift hideout (like the closet or bathroom). If your dog likes to be with the family, don't separate him or her as that will only increase stress. You can put their dog bed, blankets and toys with them for extra comfort and make sure they always have access to their water bowl.
Pro Tip: Close windows, draw curtains and explore the basement as these can all help muffle the sounds of fireworks.
2. Play Music Or Noise
Playing noise has two potential benefits: first, it can help calm your dog and second, it may muffle some of the loud firework sounds. You can try music, television, talk radio, a white noise machine or even a fan.
Pro Tip: Music with gentle sounds can help ease anxiety. Specifically, there is some classical music called "Through A Dog’s Ear" that has been shown to have calming effects for dogs, according to certified behavior consultant and professional dog trainer Jenn Stanley.
3. Provide Distractions
Distracting your dog can help keep their mind off what's going on outside. You can be hands-on and play games with them or you can give them something long-lasting to work on (like bully sticks to chew or puzzle toys).
4. Exercise Beforehand
Try getting your dog some extra exercise before the anxiety-causing event. Exercise helps your dog feel happier, more relaxed and tired - and thus less reactive. An extra long walk or a second one altogether, some fun in the dog park or a game of fetch can all help your pup later on. It's most important to give your dog extra exercise the day of the stressor, but try doing it the whole week.
5. Stay Calm When Comforting Your Dog
Dogs are very observant, especially when it comes to their humans. They can pick up on changes in your behavior and emotions, which is why it's important to remain calm when your pup is stressed. Make sure to stay calm when comforting and reassuring your dog, as overdoing it can add to their anxiety and reinforce their behavior.
6. Desensitize Your Dog To The Noise
You can work in advance on desensitizing your dog to the sound of fireworks. Do so by introducing the stimulus in lower levels or smaller doses and then rewarding your dog for not reacting. For fireworks, start by using a sound recording at low volume levels and slowly increase the volume as your dog progresses.
7. Consult Your Vet Or A Trainer
It's a good idea to talk to your vet or a trainer if your dog has severe anxiety. Trainers and behavioral consultants are professionals when it comes to desensitizing your dog to his or her fears, including fireworks. This takes time though, so you'll need to plan ahead. If all else fails, you can consult your vet, who may be able to give your dog medication to help ease their anxiety.