How To Keep Your Dog Safe And Calm During Fireworks
Holiday fireworks may be a delight for us, but most of our pets feel the complete opposite. Check out this in-depth post where you'll learn how to calm a dog during fireworks.
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.
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!
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.
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
- 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
- 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
- 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