What to do when your dog is afraid of fireworks
If you mention the Fourth of July to most dog owners, our first thoughts are barbecues, pool parties red-white-and-blue everything and, of course, fireworks.
We may love the sights and sounds associated with the Independence Day tradition.
But, the reality can be very different for our dogs, who often spend the night nervous or downright panicky, overwhelmed by unfamiliar sounds.
Short of leaving the country or moving somewhere super remote, there’s not much you can do to avoid July 4th fireworks altogether.
However, you can plan ahead to make the evening as calm as possible for your pup.
Read on to find out how to keep your dog stress free during Independence Day or any other time there’s fireworks.
In short: The most important thing to do whether your dog fears fireworks is to make sure they can’t escape by keeping them inside and closing your doggy door. Leaving music on, investing in a Thundershirt, calming chews and training your dog can all help keep them calm.
Why are some dogs afraid of fireworks?
If you’ve had your dog for a while, you’re probably aware of whether they’re part of the estimated 40 percent of dogs that experience noise anxiety.
Researchers used to believe that dogs that noise-anxiety was brought on by traumatic events; if your dog experienced something traumatic in their past related to loud noise or if they weren’t exposed to loud noises as a puppy, they were more likely to fear noise as an adult.
Now, though, it is believed that biology also plays a role in noise aversion. While traumatic events and lack of exposure can certainly trigger anxiety, some breeds are more or less disposed to fear loud noises – including fireworks. It appears that the noise is a bigger issue than anything else associated with fireworks, like lights or crowds, but those can also play a role depending on your dog.
A 2015 study found that Norwegian Buhunds, Shiba Inus and Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers tend to be most noise-averse, while Pointers, Great Danes, Boxers and Chinese Cresteds are the least.
Any breed can fear loud noises, though. I’ll never forget something that happened with my dog in middle school, because it was the first time I’d ever dealt with a dog with noise anxiety on the Fourth of July.
We had just adopted a Yorkie named Jake who was still getting used to his new home. He had been crying inside, but at the time it was much more common to be told dogs were better off “toughing it out” when it comes to fireworks. (They’re not better off. They’re not babies who need to get used to sleeping in a crib.)
The entire family spent the evening outside doing fireworks in the cul-de-sac with our other neighbors and when we finally wrapped up the night, we couldn’t find Jake anywhere. As we checked the yard to make sure we weren’t just missing him, I noticed a fresh dirt patch and realized that someone must have left the back door open at some point in the evening. The little guy had managed to dig under a weak part of the fence and squeeze through a tiny hole to get out of our yard.
Fortunately, he hadn’t gone far and we eventually found him curled up under a chair on a neighbor’s porch. Things could have ended up far worse, though, we could have prevented a lot of stress for both him and us had we known how to deal with a noise-anxious dog.
How your dog might react to fireworks
Fireworks are even more likely than thunderstorms to cause anxiety in dogs, according to a 2013 study. The most common responses an anxious dog may have to fireworks include the following:
- Seeking comfort
Dogs are also likely to try to escape the noise. That may just mean finding a more quiet central room in the house if they’re stuck indoors, but it could lead to extreme (and potentially successful) attempts if they’re outdoors when anxiety hits.
How to keep your dog comfortable on the Fourth of July
Your top priority when you know your dog may be exposed to noise from fireworks is to keep them safe and as calm as possible. There are a few tried-and-true methods to do so.
Keep your dog inside
There are multiple reasons you shouldn’t take your dog with you to watch fireworks displays or let them play in the yard during displays, the most important of which is that if a dog panics, they will probably try to run away.
You might lose them in the crowd, or if you leave them in the yard, they could end up finding a weak spot in your fence and escaping. Some dogs have been known to vault over a fence in a panic – something their owners didn’t even know they were capable of. July 5 is the busiest day of the year for animal shelters due to fireworks scares, and it’s easy not to let your dog become a statistic.
First, don’t leave your dog in your yard, even if you’re outside with them or just in the front yard doing fireworks. Whether you’re leaving or staying home to celebrate, make sure your dog is inside before festivities start and close your doggy door if you have one.
That also means you should provide an alternative place for your dog to relieve themselves, since you won’t want to let them outside during the show. And they may end up needing to go to the bathroom more than usual if they’re nervous, so it’s important they have a place to go in an emergency.
You can use traditional puppy potty pads or invest in a grass pad, which may make your dog feel more comfortable. Check out our guide to grass pads here.
Make it easier for your dog to ignore fireworks
After you’ve made sure your dog can’t escape, your next move should be to leave your TV on or play some music throughout the evening. The idea is to muffle the noise from fireworks; if your house is full of noises your dog is used to, the noise from fireworks may be muffled enough to become general background noise. At the very least, muffling the noise will help make it seem less extreme, meaning a less anxious dog.
Fortunately for Buster, my chihuahua, leaving music on at a decent volume has always been enough to keep him calm. He can still hear the fireworks – we live fairly close to quite a few major displays – but they’re muffled enough that he can just curl up and fall asleep.
Invest in a Thundershirt
Another option is to invest in a Thundershirt, which is commonly used to calm dogs who get anxious for any number of reasons.
Thundershirts work by applying gentle, steady pressure to your dog, reducing their anxiety. Think about how comforting a hug can be when you feel overly stressed; a Thundershirt can have the same effect on your dog.
Check out our full guide to the anxiety relieving Thundershirt here.
Give calming chews a try
Calming chews like Zesty Paws Calming Soft Chews for Dogs include ingredients like valerian root, hemp and L Tryptophan to naturally calm anxious dogs without making them drowsy.
Check the instructions on the packaging and make sure not to give your pup more than the recommended daily use based on your dog’s weight. If your dog gets anxious at other times, like when you have visitors or during storms, it’s the perfect opportunity to see how chews will affect them before their next exposure to fireworks.
Talk to your vet about medication
For dogs with extreme anxiety, your veterinarian may choose to prescribe a sedative to keep them calm during fireworks. This may be a one-time prescription, or your vet could recommend something more long-term, like Prozac, if your dog regularly exhibits anxious behavior to the point that they can’t live a normal life.
Ask your vet whether the sedative includes anti-anxiety medication – otherwise, your dog may find themselves with slower physical responses but just as much mental anxiety as before, which is something none of us want.
Train your dog to be comfortable with fireworks
In the future, you can train your dog to ignore fireworks (or at least to be more comfortable with them). Combining positive reinforcement with calibrated recordings meant to desensitize them can make all the difference to a noise-averse pup, but, as with any training, it will take time, patience and commitment.
You can find vet-approved free training programs here. You may also consider getting a veterinary behaviorist to help teach you how to calm your dog with yoga breaths, which will help you calm down an anxious pup when the fireworks start to roll.
Give your dog plenty of love
If you’re at home, check on your dog regularly to comfort them and make sure they’re safe (and that your house hasn’t been destroyed). If not, it’s enough to provide plenty of cuddles and playtime when you get home.
Even if you think your dog is fine with fireworks, it’s best not to chance anything going wrong. At the very least, if your dog is usually fairly calm around loud noises, make sure not to leave them outside. It’s best not to risk their safety on the off chance they do get anxious.
Most importantly, remember that your dog can’t help it if they’re afraid of fireworks. Punishing them won’t help them get over their anxiety and could make matters worse. With the tips above, though, hopefully you can make the Fourth of July as pleasant as possible for your pup.
Steph Grimes is a writer and editor based in Las Vegas. When she’s not out meeting new dogs, she enjoys traveling and catching up on her massive to-read list.