Dogs and Fireworks: 5 Practical Ways to Keep Your Dog Calm During Fireworks
It’s no secret that dogs and fireworks don’t tend to mix well. Whether you have a senior dog that’s made it through several 4th of July fireworks experiences or a young puppy that doesn’t know what’s coming once the fireworks start, most dog owners can expect some sort of negative reaction from their pet once the celebrations begin.
If you’re wondering how to calm down a dog's reaction to fireworks, it helps to start by learning a bit more about why dogs are scared of them -- and most loud noises in general -- in the first place.
Reasons Why Dogs Are Scared of Fireworks
There’s a chance that your pooch might be the outlier that makes it through the sound of fireworks with barely a glance. However, most dog owners aren’t so lucky when it comes to their dog’s relationship with loud booms!
There are a few distinct things about fireworks shows that cause dogs, as well as most animals in general, to develop a firework phobia. Some of these include:
Loud, Painful Sounds
On one level, fireworks can be upsetting and damaging to your dog due the sheer fact that the loud sounds can cause ear pain. In turn, this can lead dogs to develop noise phobias. This is where products like pressure wraps can come in handy.
Bright Light Flashes
If you’re outside or near a window where the fireworks themselves can be seen, the bright flashes of light might startle your dog. This can cause symptoms of anxiety like excessive barking, whining, or restlessness.
A Feeling of Being Threatened
The constant boom of fireworks can make dogs feel threatened, especially if they can’t pinpoint exactly where the noise is coming from and therefore can’t determine what’s causing it. This can make dogs feel that they have to protect themselves (as well as their home).
Bewilderment and Confusion
Not knowing whether another loud firework will come again can make your dog feel anxious, unable to face the sound that's causing their fear. Uncertain situations like this make it difficult for your pet to calm down or feel safe.
A Sense of Entrapment
No dog likes to feel trapped, especially if it can’t pinpoint the threat. For some dogs, being kept in a kennel or crate during fireworks can make this issue even worse, while others feel safer and more enclosed in these spaces.
How a Dog’s Anxiety Makes Fireworks Even Works
Unless you work hard to desensitize your dog to the sound of fireworks, they are likely to have some kind of negative reaction to the noise.
Did you know that some breeds of dog are more likely to develop anxiety issues than others? Some of these anxious dogs include:
- Border collies
- Cocker spaniels
- German shepherds
- Labrador retrievers
- Basset hounds
Border collies are extremely intelligent and energetic. Though these are positive traits, they can lead to dogs becoming prone to developing separation anxiety or generalized anxiety, especially if they aren’t properly exercised.
Similar traits affect cocker spaniels, who can struggle with being too clingy or exhibit symptoms of anxiety when they are left alone.
German shepherds need a lot of exercise, which leads them to become restless and anxious. Labrador retrievers are great family dogs, but they may not enjoy solitude, and their boredom can manifest as anxious behaviors. The same is true for basset hounds, who live to socialize as well as hunt.
If your pet falls into one of these breeds, you might not be a stranger to the anxious dog behavior that happens when you miss too many walks or leave them alone for too long. Usually, a dog that tends to exhibit nervous or fearful behaviors in general will have extreme reactions to fireworks or other loud noises, such as thunderstorms.
5 Ways to Help Dogs Deal with Fireworks
Loving pet owners will do anything to help their dogs feel safe and calm during a fireworks display. Luckily, there are several key steps you can take to do just that so that you can feel prepared the next time Fourth of July rolls around!
Plan in Advance for the Fireworks Season
Dogs are very sensitive to their owners' moods and emotions. Therefore, being caught unawares by Independence Day fireworks can make your dog’s anxiety even worse, as they'll be picking up on your nervous energy while also dealing with their own fears.
That is why it’s so important to be prepared for the inevitable fireworks and to have a clear plan in place. If you feel ready to take on whatever the night of loud noises has in store for you and your dog, you’ll be at an advantage with a calm demeanor and a planned set of activities.
Remember that Fourth of July fireworks aren’t usually isolated to the evening of the holiday alone. Oftentimes, fireworks can be heard at random in the days leading up to the Fourth as well as in the days after. New Year can also be a popular time to set off fireworks. Make sure to plan for these days and to have some extra dog calming products at your disposal.
Stay Indoors and Distract with Play and Treats
Some dogs are fine spending Independence Day outside as long as they’ve got their best friend beside them. However, most dogs will be much more comfortable indoors with plenty of fun activities and treats to distract them.
Working on a new trick with your pup? Before the firecrackers begin or in between booms when she’s calm, you could use this time together to get some quality dog training in. Plus, you’ll get the chance to reward her with plenty of treats and praise, which will put her in a happier state of mind.
However, make sure to watch out for any signs of fear and leave the training for another day if she’s too distracted by noise.
You’ll probably find yourself using every toy and treat at your disposal to keep your dog distracted during a fireworks show. Many owners even see positive results with white noise machines.
However, if your dog is still behaving anxiously despite your efforts, it’s important not to get frustrated with her or punish her. These actions will likely only worsen symptoms of nervousness and fear.
Thundershirts and Pressure Wraps
Many people utilize tools like weighted blankets to minimize anxiety and depression symptoms. Did you know that the method of applying light, even pressure across the body can have a similar calming effect for dogs?
Thundershirts are specially designed garments for dogs and other pets that apply an even layer of pressure across their back, sides, and stomach. These behaviorist and vet-recommended garments help pets to feel safe, secure, and calm during fireworks shows, thunderstorms, car rides, or while separated from their owner.
The pressure wrap is another tool in calming products for dogs. This garment wraps around your dog’s head, ears, and neck, helping to mute the sounds of fireworks or thunderstorms while applying calming pressure to their sensitive head and neck area.
Combining calming products while making sure your pet is hanging out in a comfortable, familiar spot, such as their kennel, can help to ease fireworks-related anxiety.
In some cases, anxiety medication may be necessary in order to treat your dog’s severe anxiety about loud noises. If your dog suffers from generalized anxiety or reacts nervously to other situations, such as extended separation, you may have already made the decision to utilize medication.
There are several different types of anxiety medications available for dogs. Some are SSRIs, which help your dog’s brain use more serotonin as a neurotransmitter and therefore increase feelings of calm and happiness. Some are benzodiazepines, which help to suppress your dog’s anxious behaviors over a short period of time.
SSRIs are typically used for compulsive anxiety, while benzodiazepines are typically used situationally.
If your dog doesn’t have general anxiety and only shows fear behaviors in isolated situations like fireworks or a thunderstorm, you may want to opt for a benzodiazepine as opposed to an SSRI. Make sure to consult with a licensed veterinarian before giving your dog any kind of treatment for their anxiety.
Loads of Love
Using plenty of anxiety calming products like Thundershirts, wraps, or the classic toys-and-treats combination can help your dog’s fear of fireworks. If your dog’s anxiety is severe, it may help significantly to utilize medication.
At the end of the day, however, it’s important that you pair all of your calming efforts with lots of love and affection for your pet. Dogs feel the safest when their beloved owner is by their side. You can help to assuage your dog’s fear by simply being there for them with rubs, cuddles, and a soothing tone of voice.
List of Calming Pet Products
There are several high-quality products out there that can help with dog desensitization about fireworks and other loud sounds. Some of our favorites include:
- Pheromone diffusers
- Melatonin tablets
- Anxiety wraps (Thundershirt, pressure wraps)
- Calming dog bed or calming dog blanket
- Adaptil calming spray
- Dog anxiety medications
Ask your vet which calming products might be best for your dog during the next Independence Day or New Year season.
Taking care of an anxious dog during fireworks can feel frustrating. However, there’s plenty you can do as a responsible pet owner to ease their fear and even make Fourth of July a fun experience for your dog.