Why Are Dogs Scared of Fireworks? 4 Ways to Help Your Pup Cope
Dogs and fireworks just don't mix. There are a few times of the year where humans celebrate but dogs just want to run and hide—like the 4th of July and New Year's Eve. If you have a pupper that can't stand the loud booming of fireworks, you know that these two holidays aren't always fun and games. Lots of dogs find loud, surprising sounds, like the bangs of fireworks or the booms of thunder, to be alarming and unnerving.
Dogs have excellent hearing and have evolved to be sensitive to novel noises. When they hear something scary or strange, their instincts tell them to get away and find safety. It's for this reason that human holidays that involve fireworks displays are no fun to most dogs. The good news is there are ways you can help your dog find some comfort when these festivities happen each year.
Why Are Dogs Afraid of Fireworks?
Some lucky people report that their dog grows up and never appears to take issue with fireworks or thunder. But lots of people discover that their dog finds the booms, cracks, and bangs to be terrifying.
Dogs experience their world largely through their senses, and they can pick up sounds and smells from great distances. They thrive in environments that are predictable (fireworks are anything but), and when something is new or strange they don't always have the skills needed to cope. This means that their instincts become engaged and you might see all sorts of behaviors like barking, whining, drooling, pacing, trembling, cowering, or worse. If left to deal with their emotions alone, dogs may experience severe fear or panic—leading to behaviors like escaping, destructive chewing, potty issues, excessive licking or grooming, and even biting when forced to interact with others.
When your dog finds things like fireworks discomforting you must step in to help. Forcing a dog to just deal with the issue only increases the likelihood of worsening behaviors and creates more distrust in your relationship.
4 Tips to Ease Your Dog’s Stress During Fireworks
It's important to remember that every dog is an individual. You will need patience and understanding when figuring out what helps your dog. Don't be afraid to try different things in order to find the best solutions for your canine buddy. And remember: Always make sure to keep your dog inside and away from fireworks and ensure his ID tags and microchip are up to date.
1. Create a Safe Place
Every dog should have access to a safe space in his home where he can retreat to when he wants. This might be his kennel (if he loves it), an empty bedroom or office, or even a warm bathroom. Put things in the safe spot your dog loves, like a favorite toy or blanket. While he is there make sure no one disturbs him or forces him to leave.
2. Stay With Your Dog and Provide Comfort
Many owners think they shouldn't comfort a fearful dog because it will make the situation worse. This is just simply not true. Providing comfort to your dog when he is scared assures him you are there to help. Just like you would comfort a crying child, so should you comfort a scared dog. Your reassuring presence combined with slow, calm pets may help your buddy to feel secure.
3. Distract Your Dog With Toys and Treats
If you know fireworks are on the agenda, distract your dog before they begin by giving him a great treat-filled toy. Or engage him in some good games of tug. Encourage him to chew on a favorite bone or do a few fun trick training sessions. Once the fireworks start, provide him options to chew or lick, like a Kong filled with nummies or even just a bowl of treats and ice cubes.
4. Play White Noise
Some dogs enjoy soothing sounds like the hum of a fan or just the mumbling sound from a TV. You can try playing soft, classical music or even purchase a white noise machine designed for dogs. Be sure to turn these on before the booms start and keep them on until the noises are all gone.
If your dog is overcome with stress and anxiety and you just cannot seem to help him, don't be afraid to seek help from a veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist. They may suggest trying a prescription medication to be given before holiday festivities. You can also try over-the-counter options like Composure Treats or Adaptil. Make sure whatever you try is done so with the help from a professional and alongside a positive reinforcement-based plan that incorporates desensitization and counterconditioning.
The key to helping any dog cope with scary things is to try and understand what they may be experiencing. Dogs experience fear in much the same way we humans do and sometimes they need a little extra support.