Many dog owners seek a remedy to help their pet overcome their fear of being scared of fireworks. It’s heart-wrenching to watch a dog cower and shake when loud noises erupt in the sky.
Running away, hiding, and quivering are fear response mechanisms and increase a dog’s anxiety. Dog owners ask themselves if there’s anything they can do to help a dog calm their distress.
The good news is that canine behavior and veterinary behavior specialist are working to uncover the root cause of dog psychology and why some dogs can’t cope. In contrast, many dogs stay calm during explosive loud booms.
Here’s what industry experts are discovering. Researchers are beginning to understand that dogs have complex emotions. A notion that animal lovers have suspected all along.
Why Dogs Hate Fireworks
It’s safe to assume dogs have hated fireworks displays for 2000 years. Some pups experience early life conditioning and develop a fear response system that makes them afraid of loud noise or remain calm.
For dogs scared of fireworks, these alarming loud noises come out of nowhere. They can’t rationalize that those offending noises aren’t a personal attack or where they come from.
Experts are discovering puppies have a three-month window to develop their sense of normal. During that growth phase, the world surrounding a puppy is filled with curiosity. Once that period ends, they develop fear responses. That means most puppy owners have an average four-week window to instill early life conditioning.
Fireworks Are Alarming
Not all dogs find fireworks alarming. However, some dogs, even those brought up in the same family, can experience a different response to fireworks. A dog can’t identify it other than it’s a threat.
Those unpredictable loud noises activate a dog’s natural fight or flight response. Some canines respond by barking, while others bolt and try to outrun it. Others burrow into the bedding or cower under a table or bed.
Fireworks can contribute to unusual behavior, and at WAF, we’ve already examined thereasons for excessive dog whining and how to stop it to help relieve pets and their owners. Other dogs might exhibit signs like pacing, whimpering, uncontrollable panting, and trembling, which can be related to anxiety.
Tip: Introducing sensitivity training to a young dog develops confidence and may help prevent dogs scared of loud noises. Most pups with anxiety symptoms may benefit from veterinary behavioral medicine and be crate trained.
Depending on where you live and the proximity to the fireworks and festivities, the loud noise can be deafening. However, a dog has acute hearing and can pick up twice as many sounds or frequencies as we do. On top of that, they can hear sounds from up to four times farther away.
But dogs have another unique method of coping with noise. Since dogs hear so much better, they must also develop a reaction to some noises or sounds but not others. They develop a system where they decide this noise, like vacuum or loud music, is okay, but the shrill ring of the telephone frightens them.
This system plays a significant role and is vital for processing good or bad sounds for service dogs and allows them to stay calm. Research in veterinary behavioral medicine suggests that a dog’s logic prefers to use an escape route, even if it’s in a safe environment like a home.
A team of researchers found that at-home counterconditioning minimizes a dog’s stress and fear. Counterconditioning is a learned skill, and owners who engage with their pets during fireworks by playing or indulging their dog with treats and affection reported these pets were 70% less scared.
Dogs live in the moment. When unexpected booms and flashing lights go off in their surroundings, they panic. They can’t understand where the noise is coming from and if it will harm them and how. This is a real danger for a dog scared of fireworks, and their brain learns to be afraid.
The real issue with unpredictable fireworks and random loud noises is that dogs never get a chance to get used to them because they appear so randomly. There isn’t time to build up a defense mechanism.
Making Dogs Feel Trapped
Fight or flight is a typical response in most dogs. On those national holidays, when every yard explodes with pretty lights, dogs initiate the flight response.
A Chihuahua might not back down from a fight with a Doberman because it understands the dog vs. dog situation. But fireworks are the manmade trigger that makes many bolt. In fact, more dogs run away on the Fourth of July; this is partially due to the fact that we spend more time outdoors during these firework-heavy holidays.
In winter, we keep our pooches indoors, and that offers them some protection. During those trying times, many pet parents seek solutions and wonder, does CBD help dogs with fireworks? The only way to know for sure is to talk to your vet and try a small sample dose.
Another method that works for some dogs is to keep them inside and confine them with favorite toys in a crate or kennel or on your lap while you remain calm.
Like people, dogs come with their own unique quirks. Genetic factors might be partially responsible for how our pets behave during fireworks. Experts are starting to unravel how temperament is not the same as personality or mood and can be affected by genetics and early development.
In many dogs, the genes are also affected by external input and can express themselves in a dog’s ability or inability to cope with stress, fear, and anxiety. Human and animal mothers with excessive stress during their pregnancy can pass that along through cortisol, the stress hormone.
This complex stress process unleashes high cortisol levels in the bloodstream and negatively influences the unborn offspring. In the study, research scientists then collected cortisol data from the dog’s hair to gauge the dog’s internal stress in relation to their behavior to loud noises.
The study discovered that cortisol levels in dogs subjected to a recording of thunder had higher amounts than in those who listened to random noises like barks.
Dogs with high cortisol levels were more likely to run, hide, and seek safety with their pet parents during thunderstorms. What’s interesting about dogs scared of fireworks is that they may not be scared of thunder or other loud noises.
How to Calm Dogs During Fireworks
Dog owners have tried numerous methods to help their dog conquer their fear of fireworks. Experts also distinguish the fear of fireworks and the fear of thunder. Some dogs may be afraid of one but not the other or both.
My Panamanian dog, Petunia, could sense a thunderstorm hours in advance. Whether it was a change in wind direction, the fall of the barometric pressure, or other telltale signs, her behavior would alert us to oncoming storms.
Since Petunia wasn’t university educated she couldn’t understand that her fear stemmed in part from the electrostatic charges of the atmosphere or that her uncanny sense of smell raised her hackles.
Here’s how you can help your dog cope:
Keep Your Dogs Indoors
Staying indoors with your dog is one method that keeps them safe, for like Petunia, they may have the instinct to run into danger. A crate-trained dog might feel more at ease in the den-like enclosure.
Some experts suggest giving your dog special treats or toys that they learn to associate as a reward during anxiety-ridden hours.
Others have luck with playing soothing music, animal sounds that distract, or resorting to a white noise machine. If those remedies don’t help, speak to your vet about prescription medications.
Use Calming Vests
A dog likes being swaddled in soothing vests, which you can order online, or you can retrofit an old vest, sweater, blanket, or shirt. This feeling of being swaddled in calming wraps is akin to that which babies experience when they’re wrapped in a soft blanket.
Calming wraps made with garments that have your scent might bring them additional comfort.
Create a Safe Corner
A safe corner is not necessarily a corner at all. Some canines like hiding under the bed, the kitchen table, or any small crawl space. Regardless of which hiding space they choose, comfort them with treats (which they may not eat), blankets, their bed, and their favorite toy.
Small bathrooms or closets might also create a feeling of a safe space. Bringing comfort is not encouraging bad behavior.
Stay with Your Dog
During severe thunderstorms and New Year’s Eve fireworks displays, stay with your dog. You’re their pack leader, and they look to you for comfort. It doesn’t take much effort to keep them company, pet their soft ears, and tell them it’s going to be okay.
Microchip and Collar: A Must for Safety
During my first week with Petunia in a new country and new house (Petunia came with the house), our neighbors had a massive fireworks celebration. Petunia bolted. We looked everywhere. Every day, I half expected to find her cold body in the ditch.
To prevent such a mishap, microchip our pooch and make sure they have ID tags on their collar. Dogs can behave unpredictably, and despite your best efforts, accidents can happen, so keep your dog safe.
Thirteen days after Petunia’s tragic escape, she came running up the alley. She was a bit worse for wear but safe. She stayed indoors, with a collar on, after that event.
Gradually Familiarize Your Dog with Fireworks
Fireworks scare many dogs, and exposure therapy can help. While practicing with life fireworks is unreasonable, you can desensitize them to fireworks by using other surprising, random noises.
Working in a controlled environment, play firework soundtracks readily available online until the dogs trust the noise. Start with a low volume, slowly increase the noise and reward your dog with treats.
Use of CBD
CBD works as a relief for many people and pets. However, you should have a discussion with your vet first if it’s an appropriate remedy. The internet is rife with the benefits of CBD, and there are precautions.
Preventing Firework Fear in Dogs
There is no magic cure to treat dogs afraid of fireworks and thunderstorms. However, you can work with your dog and try positive association methods.
Here are some of the best expert tips to combat firework fear:
- Introduce firework sounds randomly from audio soundtracks
- Exercise your dog before the fireworks display and tire them with mental and physical stimulation
- Avoid going out after dark on the day of the activities
- Preoccupy your dog during the fireworks with games, treats, chews
- Override the fireworks noise with music, games, and vacuums (loud sounds your dog doesn’t mind)
- Snuggle your dog; remember fear is an emotion, not a behavior
- Use calming devices like pheromone diffusers, calming supplements, etc
- Work with a professional behaviorist
- Use a desensitizing and recondition method recommended by veterinarian behavioral specialists
Do Fireworks Hurt Dogs’ Ears?
Yes and no. How far they are from a dog can impact the severity of ear damage. A dog can experience hearing loss from fireworks or a debilitation condition called tinnitus.
Dog’s ears are more sensitive and acute than human ears which means that loud noises are louder. Fireworks can also harm other non-human animals.
What Percentage of Dogs Are Scared of Fireworks?
It’s a difficult question to answer because few studies exist where the accuracy of the answer is studied. The UK Kennel Club suggests that 80% of canines experience a change during fireworks though it’s not necessarily expressed as fear.
Dogs in a study that received counterconditioning training had a 70% reduction in fear. The predictability is difficult to gauge, but it’s safe to assume that fireworks scare between 45 to 65% and dogs experience mild or intense fear.
What Common Behaviors Do Dogs Show During Fireworks?
Many dogs resort to flight-or-fight response and will more than likely run away, cower under furniture, seek refuge near people, or hide indoors.
How to Prevent Dogs Escaping During Fireworks?
During holiday festivities, plan a dog’s normal eating and walking routine around the activities. Keep the dog inside or in a safe space and microchipped and have an ID tag.
Some people have good luck with pre-event conditioning training and exposing their dog to noises.
Why Are Some Dogs More Scared of Fireworks than Others?
Experts believe the answer lies in what the dog experiences in its first three months of puppyhood, which are crucial in a dog’s normal and healthy development.
Dog’s Fear Fireworks Conclusion
Positive Associations and early exposure therapies help build confidence; however, not all dogs respond equally. Your dog may not fear loud booms but may be anxious during the Fourth of July. Prepare your dog ahead of those holidays and keep them indoors or contain their fright.