Many people look forward to a firework display and they are often associated with celebrations. For some dog owners though, fireworks season brings worry and dread. This is because many dogs experience firework anxiety, whether it be mild or severe. It is thought that up to 50% of the pet dog population suffers from some degree of noise phobia, so what can we do to help our canine companions cope with the booms and bangs of fireworks?
Why is My Dog Scared of Fireworks?
You know the feeling you get if someone makes a loud noise when you aren’t expecting it? You jump, your heart starts racing, and it takes several seconds or minutes for you to feel normal and relax again. Well, that’s similar to what our dogs experience when a firework goes off. Not only this, but since their hearing is so much more sensitive than ours, those firework bangs sound even louder to them.
The sudden flashes of light are often just as startling and there’s also the after-smell of burning that survival instinct has taught dogs to be afraid of. So, when you take the sounds, sight, and smell all into consideration, it’s no wonder that many of our four-legged friends are scared of fireworks.
How Do I Know if my Dog is Scared of Fireworks?
Different dogs may show different fear responses to fireworks but signs that your dog is afraid might include shaking or trembling, pacing, vocalizing more than usual (barking, whining, or whimpering), panting heavily, drooling, or hiding away. They might also have dilated pupils, flatten their ears against their head, and tuck their tail under their body. Some dogs may even become destructive or toilet in the house when they wouldn’t usually. Take this quiz to learn whether your dog has firework anxiety.
What Can I Do to Help Prepare My Dog for Fireworks?
Ideally, you want to start preparing your dog for fireworks at least a few months in advance but if you are reading this with just a few hours until the fireworks begin, don’t worry, there is still plenty you can do to help alleviate your dog’s anxiety.
- Create a safe hiding place
This is one of the most important things you can do to help ensure your dog has somewhere he can escape to if he chooses. It could be a crate covered with a blanket or a comfy bed under a table. Consider using a bed that’s designed to help alleviate anxiety. Make sure your dog’s “den” is away from any windows or doors.
- Ensure your contact information is correct
More dogs go missing after firework displays than at any other time. Dogs have been known to break through windows, climb fences, and slip their collars in an attempt to escape the scary sights and sounds and in doing so, can easily get themselves lost. Make sure your dog is wearing a tag on his collar with your up-to-date contact information and ensure that he is microchipped (and that your details are current and correct). This will help ensure your dog is returned to you should he go missing.
- Keep windows and curtains closed and turn on the TV or radio
Limit your dog’s exposure to the fireworks as much as possible and provide some other background noise as this may offer some distraction from the sudden bangs.
- Ensure that someone stays with your dog
Try not to leave your dog alone in the house if he is scared of fireworks. Talk to him reassuringly and give him a pat but do not comfort him excessively as this will only teach him that he is right to be afraid.
- Exercise your dog before it gets dark
Ensure that your dog is tired and has had his walk before the fireworks begin. If he needs to go outside to toilet while the fireworks are happening, take him out on a secure lead and stay with him to provide reassurance while he does his business.
This is a way of slowly and gradually introducing the concept of fireworks to your dog so that he is more comfortable when fireworks are let off. There are CDs available for purchase with the sound of fireworks, and you begin by playing the sounds at a very low volume while you feed or play with your dog. Once your dog is comfortable, you can then gradually increase the volume. This must be done very slowly over weeks or even months – however, it can be highly effective in helping to minimize your dog’s anxiety.
- Speak to your veterinarian
They can refer you to a suitably qualified behaviorist who will be able to formulate a tailored plan for your dog and offer more in-depth advice. Some dogs are so scared of fireworks that they may also need prescription sedatives. These will always work best alongside a behavioral management plan.
Is there anything I can give my dog for fireworks anxiety?
There is nothing you can give your dog that will instantly cure his firework anxiety but there are several over-the-counter calming products that may help. These can either be in the form of oral tablets or liquids, pheromone collars, or household plug-in diffusers. Your veterinarian can advise you about the best product for your dog.
You could also try using a dog anxiety vest. These work by “hugging” the body to reduce anxiety levels, in much the same way that swaddling a baby can help to soothe them. The ThunderShirt uses a patented design to lower stress levels in all types of anxiety including firework anxiety.
Firework fear in dogs is very common, and generally gets worse with time. New puppy owners should try their best to prevent firework fear with proper socialization and habituation training, but once it has started, it’s best to talk to a professional for help with firework fear in dogs.