How to Keep Your Dog Settled During Fireworks
While it’s meant to be celebratory, this common summer activity may cause your pup to shake, shiver, whine, cry, or even hide under a table or a bed. Yes, we are talking about shooting off fireworks, which can be unsettling or, worse, panic-inducing for dogs every summer season. While honoring our freedom and the sacrifices of our American Heroes on the 4th is as important as ever, any responsible dog owner will also find ways to keep their companions safe and sound through what can be a difficult experience for many dogs and Veterans alike. Here’s what you can do to help your dog stay out of fight or flight mode and get through the challenge of fireworks this year.
Why Your Dog Hates Fireworks
Dogs experience the world differently, taking in their stimuli first through the nose, then ears, then eyes. You probably know that dogs have a much more sophisticated sense of smell than humans, but did you know that their hearing is extremely sensitive as well? This means that for a dog, fireworks can be much more intense than just “loud”: instead, they might be extremely fear-inducing, causing your dog to feel under attack and to go into fight or flight mode.
Proactive Ways to Help Your Dog
You can be proactive about helping your dog get through an evening of fireworks by desensitizing them while they are still young. While your dog is still a puppy, play fireworks like the ones in this video to help them get used to the sounds. Give them affection and/or treats if they display a calm mental state. The idea is that when the Fourth of July rolls around, they won’t give this type of noise a second thought, or they’ll at least be much less affected. If your dog is no longer a puppy and already fearful of fireworks, it is possible to counter-condition them to be less afraid. See this guide from VCA Animal Hospitals for some tips on how to begin.
What to Do on the Day of the Fireworks
On the Fourth of July, there are many strategies you can use to help your dog through the stress of a fireworks experience:
- Get your exercise in early: On July 4th or any other day you know there will be fireworks in your community, be sure to exercise your dog thoroughly and early in the day. The exercise will ensure they are in a calmer state of mind when the fireworks begin and will allow you to keep them safely inside through the production.
- Find a quiet space: During the fireworks, keep your pet in a quiet, calm room as far away from the noise as possible. If your pup is crate trained, having them take refuge, there can add an extra feeling of safety.
- Try white noise: White noise can work for dogs similarly to the way it does for humans, providing a distracting, calming sound that drowns out the noises around it. Music or TV can provide a buffer as well.
- Close windows and doors: Did you know that even if you’ve managed to tamp the noise down, your dog may be triggered by the smell of sulfur from fireworks? Keeping the windows and doors closed, and the blinds drawn will keep all their senses⸺not just their ears⸺protected from the experience.
- Keep them secure: Unfortunately, many well-meaning pet owners will have the awful experience of learning their dog is fearful of fireworks when the dog bolts from their house or yard or loose leash upon hearing the terrifying noise. Don’t let this be you: make sure your dog is completely secure and under your command when the fireworks begin.
- Don’t reinforce your dog’s anxiety: While it will probably be very tempting, resist the urge to pet or talk to your dog if they are shaking or displaying signs of fear. It’s fine to sit with them and stay by their side, but giving affection to an anxious or fearful dog only reinforces that you agree with and want to encourage that mindset.
Other Things to Try
- Weighted coat: Known as a “thundershirt” or “dog anxiety vest,” this tool is sort of a combo between a weighted blanket for adults and a swaddle for babies. Supposedly, the weight and gentle pressure from the vest can make your dog feel safer and calmer in stressful situations, and many dog owners swear by them. If you want to try an anxiety vest for your dog, be sure to purchase and get your dog used to the vest itself before any event you hope to use it for.
- Pheromones: As we mentioned earlier, dogs have an incredible sense of smell. And as with humans, scent can be a powerful way to trigger a different mind state and induce a feeling of calm. Some studies have shown these pheromone products can be effective for separation and other types of anxiety in dogs, and trying them is just as simple as using an aromatherapy diffuser.
- Medication: While medication is probably not necessary for most dogs and should be used as a last resort if you know your dog has an extreme fear, it doesn’t hurt to talk to your veterinarian about medication options.
A Final Word About Firework Safety
While most dog owners are concerned about protecting their animals from the intense noise of fireworks, it should also be said that it’s important to protect dogs from fireworks themselves. Accidents can happen far too easily when fireworks are involved, so always keep your dog safe inside if you or anyone in your area is lighting fireworks in your neighborhood.
Follow these guidelines to ensure you and your dog have a safe and happy 4th of July, so you can focus on celebrating what really matters, the freedom provided to us by our Veterans. If you know a Veteran in need of support from a service dog, share our website with them.