Dogs are just like humans in that they experience many of the same emotions, including when exposed to new sights and sounds. The noise and unpredictability of fireworks lead many dogs to perceive them as a threat, thus triggering their flight-or-fight response. With that comes feelings of anxiousness, fear, or even excitement about the new stimuli. Dogs have a stronger sense of hearing and smell than people, so it’s understandable that loud noises both natural and manmade instill a sense of panic.
The 4th of July Fireworks celebrations will soon be upon us. In this article, we will explain why dogs are afraid of fireworks and how you can calm your dog through this year’s festivities and lead to a more enjoyable holiday for you both.
Steps to desensitizing your dog to fireworks
You can train your dog to remain calm during fireworks by slowly introducing them to the sound. This method is known as desensitization. Here are some simple steps to start with.
- To prepare for the 4th of July holidays, find a video or recording of fireworks.
- Start by playing the video and/or audio recording of the fireworks at a low volume during the day.
- Create positive associations around the sound of fireworks. Giving your dog a treat or playing with them after they hear firework sounds can help ease their anxiety and teach them to become less afraid over time.
- Start playing increasingly louder recordings or videos containing loud celebratory sounds – like cheering crowds.
- If your pet has begun to show signs of fear, then it is best to turn the volume down until they’re relaxed and at ease.
- Repeat this several times each day until your dog can hear the sounds of the fireworks at a fairly high volume without becoming fearful.
It can be a challenge to build your own fireworks display. However, playing a recording of the event may help alleviate the fear and anxiety that some pets experience as well as increasing their comfort level with future displays.
5 Ways To Keep Your Dog Calm
Before the 4th of July, here’s a list of effective tips to help your dog get through the fireworks with minimal stress for you both.
- Reinforce the right behavior: It’s important that your own behavior doesn’t change to ease your dog’s nerves. Many people feel compelled to try to soothe their dogs when the dog is showing signs of fear. Rather than petting your dog and showering them with attention to ease their nerves, reward desired behavior where dogs are behaving without fear.
- Remain Calm: If you get scared when loud noises like fireworks or thunderstorms happen, try not to behave that same way in front of your dog. Your body language may make them more anxious by feeling vulnerable at the sound of a sudden noise coming from outside.
- Try drowning out the sound of the fireworks. Turn up your radio, TV or use a white noise generator to drown out any loud noises, and be sure to keep windows closed during the festivities.
- Find a small room where your pup can hide during the event. It’s also important to create an environment that is familiar and comforting so he’ll feel more secure in his hiding spot; bring some of his bedding if possible. Leave him with a favorite toy or treat to keep things interesting while you’re out celebrating.
- Don’t force it: When traveling outside of his comfort zone a dog can become increasingly scared. This may include being in unfamiliar or loud environments and encountering new stimuli like unusual sights, sounds, and smells. In order to reduce these fears, it’s important to take small steps with your pup before pushing him past what he’s comfortable with.
How to manage dogs with a severe phobia of fireworks
In some cases, your dog may have a severe phobia of loud noises such as fireworks or thunderstorms. Utilizing medication can help in this situation. Vet-prescribed medication and sedatives can keep your dog calm during their anxious time.
Dogs are understandably scared of the loud and swift sounds that accompany fireworks. Consistent exposure to these sounds will result in a more relaxed dog, but medication may stop the noise from bothering your pup altogether.
Why Your Dog Is Afraid of Fireworks
A 2013 study conducted by the University of Bristol found fireworks were the most common cause for fear in dogs. Typical reactions to hearing them included trembling, shaking, seeking comfort from a person or object close by, and destruction like chewing objects or clawing surfaces nearby as well as urinating and salivating.
A lack of exposure to loud noises as a puppy, traumatic noise events early in life or environmental factors that we are unaware of could be the reason our dogs behave strangely when they hear a loud sound such as thunderstorms or fireworks. Dogs respond by like cowering, shaking, panting, and urinating inappropriately.
How a dogs owner and family react to fireworks and other loud noises like thunderstorms is the prevailing theory.
“Our results suggest that the characteristics of dogs, their early environment, and exposure to specific loud noises are involved in the development of fear responses to noises,” Dr. Rachel Casey explained. “Interestingly, less than a third of owners sought professional advice about treatment for their pet’s response to noises.”
A Bristol research study found that dogs raised by the same owners who bred them were less likely to be afraid of noises later in life. As such, hunting breeds like Labradors and Springer Spaniels are more tolerant of noise. The researchers noted that designer breeds are likely to have greater fear or sensitivity.