Since my dogs were puppies, they’ve long had a fear of fireworks. These fur babies, who are generally pretty lazy, will run and hide in the strangest of spots whenever the seasonal fireworks begin. Eventually, after a few weeks of summer, they’ll slowly get used to the sound and be able to handle it better. But, that desensitization will fade with the following summer when they are fearful yet again, and once again need to get used to that sound.
The reasons dogs don't like fireworks make sense. Dogs are animals, after all, meaning they're hardwired to fear loud, disconcerting sounds. It's not the worst survival tactic in the world! Dogs have better hearing than humans, and register frequencies we don't even know are there. A slightly jarring sound to us can sound like a large-scale invasion to them! The summer, and particularly on and around the 4th of July celebration, can be a difficult time for pups — especially for dogs that are already prone anxiety, it can be a lot to bear.
That's why we put together tips and tricks to help dogs (and you) survive the 4th of July and fireworks season. Here's what to do if your dog is scared of fireworks:
What to do if your dog is afraid of fireworks
1. Stay close and provide reassuring contact
If your dog does have a lot of anxiety because of fireworks, try to keep them calm. You can hold them or let them sit right beside you while they're going off.
A big part of keeping our dogs calm is making them feel safe. For that reason, petting them will also help keep them calm. There are also calming treats that you can give your dog to help with the anxiety, just make sure to run these by a vet beforehand.
2. Work with a trainer
One of the best ways to help your dog with their firework phobia is actually through training. If you start preparing throughout the weeks leading up to the festivities, it can make a world of difference.
If you are not sure how your dog will react around fireworks, seeking a professional dog trainer or behaviorist to help you do a “test run” may teach you a lot. Setting up in a controlled environment with a professional who knows how to introduce the stimulus would be a good way to identify any fearful or anxious behaviors in your dog.
Ultimately, a knowledgeable trainer is a great asset to have if your dog is having trouble.
3. Avoid the noise as much as you can
Try as best as you can try to avoid having your pet be exposed to fireworks if they are afraid. This of course means not setting off any fireworks yourself.
Obviously, you can't control what neighbors or nearby businesses do, so this is often out of your control. But, if you are able to take your pet to a friend or family member's house that is in an area where fireworks will not go off, that is even better.
4. Make the sounds more familiar
Before the Fourth of July festivities, you can do a few things to normalize the sounds, like playing audio recordings of fireworks. This will help desensitize your dog to the noise.
Play these sounds for a short period of time every day around your dog, and act like nothing is happening. Then, try to help them stay as calm as possible and reward them for good behavior. Every day you can increase the length of the firework sound until they are perfectly fine with them.
To recap: Play sounds simulating fireworks over a speaker at a low level, gradually increase the volume over time, and reward for positive behavior. It can go a long way!
5. Distract your dog as much as possible
Doing things like going to the park and playing ball, taking a hike, or even wrestling in the living room will make a difference in your dog’s overall stress levels. Exercise is so important for our canine companions, so running those reserve tanks empty is a great idea!
You can introduce new interactive dog toys that can keep them interested and busy doing other things—double points if the toys dispense treats.
6. Let your dog find a safe place
If you see a pet is nervous about fireworks, let them stay in a secure place: crates, under the bed, in the bathtub, your closet, etc.—every pet has a spot that gives them a little extra security.
Never hinder your pup from hiding, as this can undermine their trust in you. Let them stay in their secure place and give them a toy or a treat.
It’s important to keep a scared pet indoors, in a room with no windows or sharp objects.
7. Stock up on supplies
Dog compression shirts
Purchase a Thundershirt to help give your dog that snuggly feeling throughout the night. These act in the same manner as swaddles do for babies or weighted blankets do for adults.
Anti-anxiety supplements & calming aides
You can also seek out the help of an over the counter anxiety aide. If you do, make sure you ask a vet about its efficacy and safety first. There could be risk factors involved in adding a supplement to your dog’s diet if they have allergies or sensitivities to certain foods.
8. Ask your vet about prescription anti-anxiety medications
If none of the above work for a dog afraid of fireworks, another option could be prescription anti-anxiety medications. You will need to have a working relationship with a veterinarian to receive a prescription, but these can help your pet through fireworks, especially if they get very stressed out.
Depending on the severity of your pet's anxiety and fear, your vet may prescribe anything from Trazodone to Fluoxetine (Prozac), or a newer medication called SILEO, which is specifically made to help with dogs who have noise phobias.