Holiday fireworks may be a delight for us, but most of our pets feel the complete opposite. It’s not just that they don’t enjoy them or see them as delightful, but many of them go through difficult times and anxiety crisis because of it.
Fear of fireworks goes side by side with the fear of thunder and lightning. Both are very common, and both are highly unlikely to be overgrown naturally or to simply go away by themselves. Dogs that suffer from these phobias are having a hard time going through the storm or holiday seasons.
Since the fear of fireworks is the issue here, we will focus on several strategies on how to help your dog calm down during fireworks as well as on the strategies on how to prepare your dog for the fireworks season that’s about to come.
So, instead of focusing on the show in the sky, pay attention to your dog – the poor fellow probably isn’t the least amused by the shiny lights and the festival spirit.
Why Is My Dog Afraid Of Fireworks?
Unlike the thunder storms, there are no dilemmas on what causes dogs’ fireworks anxiety. It’s not hard to figure out that it’s the sudden, loud noises that keep repeating, the unnatural flashing lights and people’s unusual reactions that bother dogs.
Some dogs seem to be even more upset by the fireworks than by the thunder storms, because, unlike the thunder storms that they may anticipate (high wind and barometric pressure), fireworks strike your dog completely unannounced. Even the scent of gunpowder that most dogs aren’t used to may trigger the anxiety.
Some breeds, for example herding breeds like the German Shepard, are more likely to display the fear of this kind than the others.
The good thing is that for us, the “fireworks season” isn’t that hard to anticipate, and that gives us a chance to, through training sessions, prepare our dogs for the Fourth of July celebrations or the New Year’s Eve.
5 Reasons Dogs Are Scared of Fireworks
More pets run away on the Fourth of July than any other day of the year. In addition, this is also the busiest day of the year to animal shelters. Long story short, dogs are scared of fireworks, and you will find below 5 most common reasons why dogs are actually scared of fireworks.
1. Fireworks Are Extremely Loud
Canines are not found of loud ans sudden sounds. It simply puts them in distress. Most fireworks make loud sounds, and its painful to dogs. After all, they have more acute sense of hearing than humans, so loud sounds are something that theycan’t cope with. Loud sounds are extremely alarming to them.
2. Fireworks Are Unpredictable
For your dog every firework is the same. Basically, there is no difference when it comes to fireworks on the Forth of July and any other holiday. Your dog sees it as sudden and unpredictable phenomenon. Simply said, those firecrackers come without warning. Furthermore, loud noise and flashing lights are never the same. In addition, they come at different intervals. Simply, dog’s can’t get used to them.
3. Fireworks Are A Threat
Fireworks are so unpredictable and sudden that dogs see them as a threat. What makes it even more strange to them is the fact that dog’s can’t know from where they are coming from. Your dog can show three type of reaction in this case:
- Your dog may bark at the noises.
- Your dog may try to run away and find a shelter.
- Your dog may hide as soon as firework starts.
4. Fireworks Make Dogs Feel Ambushed
During firework sessions your dog feels trapped. It’s dog natural instinct to react immediately on anything that’s aggressive and loud. It makes them like they run from the threat. But, unfortunately, often times there is nowhere to go. In most cases you can hear loud booms indoors.
5. Fireworks Fear Might Have More To Do With Biology Than Environment
Norwegian study from 2015 reported that dogs fear toward loud noises and fireworks is more linked with biology than environment. They looked at over 5000 dogs from 17 different breed clubs across the country. During their research they focused on four types of sounds:
- loud banging
Basically, the results showed that a connection between noise-sensitive fearfulness and breeds. For example, Shiba Inus, and Norwegian buhunds, together with soft-coated wheaten terriers were more fearful.
On the other hand, breeds like Great Danes, and Pointers, showed the least amount of fear. So, basically there is a genetic predisposition. In addition, the study showed that female dogs were more likely to be afraid, as well as neutered dogs. Also, older dogs are more prone to being fearful.
How To Calm Your Dog Down During Fireworks
Some dogs do not display any signs of discomfort, even less fear or anxiety during fireworks. Some begin to show them at an older age, but some of them have serious anxiety or panic attacks from the very beginning.
Will your dog be afraid this year if he showed no interest in fireworks last year? Nobody can tell.
Yet, if you get caught unprepared for your dog’s panic attack, there are things that you can do to help your dog in that particular situation.
Safe Place To Hide
Frightened dogs tend to instinctively find a place they consider safe and hide until the fireworks are finished. Those places are often the ones that prevent them from seeing bright lights from the fireworks and that tone down or completely eliminate the noise.
The most common places dogs choose as their safe place are closets, bathrooms or bath tubs and the space under the furniture. Although this behavior may seem weird to you, allow your dog to go and hide. Even more, offer such a place yourself.
This behavior represents the dog’s own way of handling the fear and anxiety. Encourage the dog to stay hidden until the fireworks are over, even bring his favorite blanket or toy to show your support and make it as cozy as possible. Make the safe place accessible throughout the whole fireworks season.
Create A Distraction
Some dogs are so frightened that they just sit and tremble for hours, while others jump and scratch all over you. One way to calm down your dog (at least a bit) is to create a distraction. Play the TV or music louder than usual and play your dog’s favorite game with him. By doing something you usually do together and that you know your dog enjoys, you will occupy his attention and minimize the level of anxiety.
Some dogs are easier to occupy by practicing training tasks. Use the leash and practice the “Sit” or “Stay down” command, rewarding the job well done as usual, while completely ignoring the firework noises.
The basis of all the strategies related to “How to keep your dog calm during fireworks” problem is to remain calm yourself and act the way you usually do.
By expressing your own fear or anxiety and acting in panic, whether over the fireworks or your dog’s reaction, you can only cause more intensive feeling of helplessness and deepen your dog’s fear. So, you need to remain calm.
Do not use the “poor thing” approach, because that way you actually encourage the idea that there is something to be afraid of.
If your dog is the backyard resident, do not let him stay out alone. Allow your dog to come inside and be near you even if that isn’t what you usually do. Many indoor pets suffer the fear of fireworks even though they are safe under the roof at all times – imagine then how hard it must be for an outdoor dog to deal with it outside by himself.
Some owners aren’t even aware that their backyard dogs have this fear, and are genuinely surprised by the fact that their dog “celebrates” the Fourth of July by digging holes maniacally or by running away. Just like the indoor pets, backyard pets need your close attention.
If allowing your dog to be in the house at least until the spectacle is over for any number of reasons isn’t an option, provide your dog with a safe place of some sort elsewhere.
The garage or cellar may serve the purpose since the indoor space will tone down the noises and reduce the flashing lights of fireworks. Ignoring or not even noticing the fear and anxiety is by far the worst option!
Keep Water And Food Around
It is important to think ahead and act as firework will last the whole night. Therefore, it’s crucial to top up your dog’s water bowl and to make sure that he had enough to eat that day.
Anxiety in dogs works similarly like in humans, so you can expect panting, heavy breathing, and dehydration. That being said, you should bear in mind that dogs can get extra thirsty when anxiety kicks in. Also, make sure that you feed your dog well before the fireworks begin.
Feed your dog in a period when you expect no disturbances. The best time would be in the morning before everyone gets in a rush and before the fireworks begin, or even fireworks testing. Once the fireworks start, your dog may be too anxious to eat.
Lock Your Doors And Windows
Although you can do everything right and be prepared as best as possible, unplanned things can still happen. Just a second of distraction is enough to lose your dog out of your sight. That being said, if you are living in a house or in a first-floor, make sure that you lock your doors and windows.
Some pets have been known to escape. Simply said, they do it as a result of their anxiety. You should double check if doors and windows are closed if you are leaving your dog alone. In addition, you should know what to so if you lose your dog.
Also, draw the curtains. This is a great way to block out scary flashes of light and reduce any noise level of fireworks. In addition, if you have dog flaps or even cat flaps, block them. This will prevent dogs, and cats, escaping.
Make sure that your dog has appropriate tags and also microchips. This form of identification is especially convenient during the fireworks and in case your canine escape. This a simple move that can lead to a happy reunion when you least expect it.
Therefore, it’s crucial to microchip your dog. Also, this is the best chance to reunite with your dog if he runs away. So, if your canine is not micro chipped, please contact your veterinarian and discuss having a microchip implanted.
Getting Your Dog Used To The Fireworks Noise
Rather than waiting for the next anxiety attack caused by a long night of fireworks, try getting your dog to get used to the fireworks noise. The process of desensitizing is based on exposing your dog to the noise and visual stimulants similar or the same as those of fireworks. Step by step, play to your dog the videos of fireworks, at first toned down and monitor his reactions for a period of time.
At the beginning, while the noises aren’t loud, your dog probably won’t mind them at all. Play the sounds of fireworks during the activities your dog enjoys, such as feeding, playing, and cuddling. During the process that should last several weeks, play the video at first toned down and for only several minutes. Each day, increase the duration and volume of the video.
By then, you will most probably have noticed that your dog isn’t comfortable with the loud noises you play to him. Try distracting him by focusing his attention on something else, for example by playing with him or by performing training exercises. Do not ever let these desensitizing sessions last longer than ten minutes or so.
If you feel that the line is crossed and that playing the video is causing the same level of anxiety as the actual fireworks – do not push it any further. Some dogs are able to adjust to discomfort, but some are simply too sensitive and desensitizing process may only deepen the phobia.
Fireworks Fear And Anxiety And Medication
Some dogs fear the fireworks so much that their actions go completely out of control. Shaking and intense heart beating even hours after the fireworks are over, unwilling defecation caused by the fear, attempts to dig through the drywall – some of the reactions that you should consider to be a clear sign that your dog suffers serious phobia.
This problem is not something that training can solve. After all, we all know people who can’t handle the sound of thunder, although they rationally know they are hardly at any danger. That kind of fear is completely irrational and is very difficult to live with. Some people, as well as some dogs, simply aren’t able to handle it. If you recognize this to be the situation, it most certainly is time to talk about it with your veterinarian.
Anti-anxiety medicine will help your dog calm down during fireworks, but under no conditions are you to prescribe medicine to your dog by yourself.
Dogs have a rich history of suffering from anxiety. Moreover, they suffer from different types of anxiety. Although, to non-pet people anxiety in pets can sound like a non-serious condition, pet owners know how serious this condition can be.
There are dogs that suffer from this condition for years, while other never actually get recovered from it. In most cases, this condition should be treated with proper medication, which can be even based on herbs. And that’s actually what your veterinarian might subscribe, medications, or natural therapies. Antidepressants are occasionally prescribed for dogs with anxiety, including clomipramine and fluoxetine.
Benzodiazepine can be often prescribed by veterinarian when it comes to specifics, like dealing with anxiety during the fireworks. In addition with antidepressant this medicine should help dog cope with the stress. Medicine like Selegiline is used for treating chronic anxiety when it comes to the Europe.
On the other hand, natural therapies and products have a proven history of helping dogs with anxiety. But, bear in mind that some products work best when they are combined with other medications, while some can be used alone. Again, this is highly individual, as each dog’s case is different.
Pheromones and aromatherapy are used for reducing anxiety. However, the best thing would be to talk with your veterinarian and see what’s professionals recommend.
Common Symptoms Of Anxiety In Dogs
Just like in humans, it’s not difficult to notice if your dog is suffering from any form of anxiety. Close observation is the best way to determine if your dog suffers from anxiety or not. Moreover, there are dogs that get anxious under specific conditions, like fireworks, while other suffer from a more generalized form of anxiety.When dogs are anxious they tend to show some combination of the following symptoms:
- Trembling – this condition is often seen due to many reasons. Trembling or shaking can be pain-related, or it can manifest due to fear, anxiety, or simply when it’s too cold. However, this state is most seen during July 4th fireworks or during thunderstorms.
- Panting – dog can pant heavily when he is experiencing poisoning or a heatstroke. But some dogs may show these symptoms when they are experiencing anxiety attack.
- Tense muscles – this may not be so often, but dogs can experience it. Although dogs are great at hiding their pain, there are a few subtle ways for them to show us that they are in pain. He may creep up slowly, or make a strange move when he gets up or before he sits. This is also condition that can only be confirmed by your veterinarian.
- Urination – if you are finding urination marks all over the house it’s a clear sign that your dog is disturbed with something. In most cases, this is a common indicator of heavy anxiety in your dog, and you should address your veterinarian for professional help.
- Attempts to escape the situation – this can often lead to destructive behavior, so you should protect your living area and prevent possible escape.
The first step when it comes to dealing with anxiety is to make an appointment with your veterinarian. Many diseases are associated with symptoms that look identical to those seen with canine anxiety. After all, your veterinarian has the most knowledge about this matter and you should trust him and follow tips on dealing with anxiety.
How To Respond To Your Dog’s Fireworks Anxiety – Quick DOs And DONTs
- Take your dog’s fear of fireworks seriously – it will not go away on its own.
- Take your dog away from the fireworks – you can arrange to have your dog in a place where there won’t be any fireworks at all, or at least won’t be loud fireworks. So, it can be a friend’s place, relative’s home, or even doggie daycare.
- Have a travel kennel nearby – if you can’t take your dog to a quiet place, or he doesn’t have his safe place yet, you can put a travel kennel at home. Your dog may connect this with mutual activity, especially if he likes to travel. Also, if you’re not going to be home, call a pet sitter, or a friend over.
- Stay calm all the time – it is very important to communicate the calming message to your dog. That way he will stay relaxed. Don’t forget that humans communicate with words, while dogs communicate with energy, body movement, and non-verbal communication.
Therefore, it’s crucial to communicate with your dog in the right way. Moreover, he sees you as a pack leader and if a pack leader gets upset he will automatically pick up that energy and start feeling restless as well.
- Allow your dog to hide in a safe place of his choosing – respect his choice however unusual it may seem to you.
- Keep the access to the safe place available during the fireworks season – you will not always be at home to make the access clear.
- Pheromones – you can always try with commercially available pheromone products. Their main purpose is to create a calming effect. However, not all dogs react to this product. It is highly individual, so you won’t know until you try it.
- Offer the safe place yourself – you never know, maybe the idea of having a safe place just hasn’t crossed your dog’s mind yet.
- Provide your dog with his favorite toys and things in his hideout – favorite blanket makes everything a little bit easier.
- Distract your dog by playing the TV or music loudly.
- Distract your dog by playing or by practicing the training exercises – focus more on games and less on fireworks.
- Provide your outdoor pet with an indoor safe place for at least until the fireworks are over.
- Try to desensitize your dog to the noise of fireworks – sometimes dogs can adapt to things that they find unpleasant.
- Ask for the vet’s help and advice if your dog is having severe trouble handling the fear – medicine is sometimes the only way to deal with phobia.
- Dog Anxiety Vest – this vest works by putting gentle pressure on your dog’s torso to reduce fireworks anxiety.
- Dog Anxiety T-shirt – this t-shirt works as well as the vest, by the same principles.
- Sedation – if you have your dog for years and you know that nothing works, including preparation of a few months, and he spends entire night shaking, maybe you should think about medicine. But, make sure that you talk to your veterinarian about this.
- Consult a professional – if you tried everything and nothing seems to work, you should find a positive dog trainer to help you and your dog to master relaxation protocols.
Just make sure that your dog is familiar with the place and the people around it. If not, you can take him for a few days in a row for adjustment. By doing so, you will prevent any additional shock when you take him there on the Fourth.
- Under no conditions punish unwanted behavior – acting out of fear is not typical misbehavior and you should not treat it as such
- Do not prevent your dog from staying at the place he recognized as the safe one – however weird the choice may seem to you, it is just the right one for him
- Do not display your concern over your dog’s fear however serious it may be – you are supposed to be the one to provide support, not the one to be frightened
- Do not react to the noises – act as if the fireworks do not exist, ignore them completely and behave the usual way
- Do not push your dog through the desensitizing process – if it works on your dog, great, but if it does not, do not traumatize your dog any further
- Do not leave your dog outside while the fireworks are on – pets that suffer from this phobia have a tough time dealing with it even while safe inside the house. Those with the same problem left outside may develop serious behavioral issues and remain traumatized for the rest of their lives!
- Do not prescribe anti-anxiety medicine to your dog without consulting the vet – you may have some experience with anxiety medicine, but prescribing your dog one is not the same as you taking one yourself
- Do not take your dog out – it’s not necessary for your dog to see the firework. Don’t assume that looking at the firework can make him happy. Furthermore, this can lead to additional stress or anxiety.
- Never tie your dog out – leaving your dog alone during the fireworks outside can create massive damage. Furthermore, if you tie the dog up and leave him for hours outside you can expect the major fight against anxiety in the long run.
- Do not tempt them – never try to make your dog go outside. No candy in the world is enough to make them face their fears.
- Never tell your dog off – if your dog comes to ask a comfort from you, make sure that you address this need properly, and not by making him go away. Remember, it’s natural for a dog to be scared of loud noises and sounds and sights that he is not familiar with.
Check out this infographic with tips to keep your pets safe during fireworks and share it will all your friends that are pet parents.