For humans, fireworks are a fun way to celebrate the holidays. Unfortunately, dogs don’t share the same excitement for these loud booms and flashing lights, but why are dogs scared of fireworks, and, most importantly, what can dog owners do to help them through it? There are several strategies dog owners can use when it comes to keeping their pups calm during a big firework display.
Why are dogs scared of fireworks?
Fireworks are the most common trigger for a dog’s fearful behavior which includes trembling, hiding, urinating, and seeking comfort. Although nature also has its set of loud noises such as when there’s a thunderstorm, a dog’s experience with fireworks is different.
Fireworks are closer to the ground and more vibrant. Besides, it’s also accompanied by burning smells, flashes, and booms. Because dogs experience the world through their heightened senses, what is nothing more than a fun show for humans, can be an overwhelming experience for dogs.
There are 3 main things dogs hate about fireworks:
- Loud noises: dogs have better hearing than humans and most fireworks make loud noises. This results in dogs being alarmed by all the booms, crackles, and whistles that come along with it.
- Unpredictability: dogs don’t know when it’s a holiday coming up. While humans know when to expect fireworks, for dogs it’s just another day. Besides the fireworks coming out of nowhere for dogs, the noises and flashes also look different each time and have different intervals. This makes it difficult for dogs to get used to them.
- It’s impossible to escape: when dogs get spooked by the flashes and noises they immediately try to escape. Unfortunately, unless the dog owner is prepared for this event, there’s rarely a place to go.
The loud noises and unpredictability make dogs see fireworks as a threat which triggers their flight-or-fight response. Some dogs respond by running away and trying to hide, others by barking or simply showing signs of anxiety such as panting and whining.
3 tips to keep your dog calm during the holidays
Fortunately, by preparing in advance, you can make the holidays easier on your dog and avoid a stressful episode.
1. Train your dog in advance
The most definite measure you can take is to ensure your dog is comfortable with the fireworks’ sounds in advance. It does require some effort and planning ahead on your part but it’s the best way to ensure your dog is going to stay relaxed during the fireworks, allowing you to enjoy the show in the company of your four-legged bud.
Ideally, you should start the training three or four months before the actual fireworks. Start by playing the recorded sound of fireworks next to your dog at a low volume right before your dog eats, goes for a walk, or before playtime. Over time, increase the volume of the fireworks. This will teach your dog to associate that noise with something good instead of seeing it as a threat. It’s all about positive reinforcement!
2. Preparing a place for your dog to stay
Try to think of anyone you know that won’t be near any loud fireworks display and would be willing to host your dog during the celebrations. It can be a friend, a relative, or even a daycare. If it’s somewhere unfamiliar, take your dog there for a visit first. If you can’t find a place for your dog to stay away from the fireworks, plan a space where your dog can stay indoors. It needs to be a safe and enclosed area where your dog won’t be able to get hurt if panic hits.
This area should be one where your dog won’t be as exposed to sounds and will prevent any escape. To help mask the noise from the fireworks, you can leave some background noise on like TV, fans, or white noise machines. Even if you’re able to keep your dog indoors, ensure that there is an ID tag attached to the collar and that your dog’s microchip details are up to date. Dogs are able to use drastic measures to escape when they’re scared.
3. Get your dog tired and keep it busy
You’ve probably already heard that a “tired dog is a happy dog”. This is a great motto to always remember when you’re a dog owner. Getting your dog physically and mentally tired can make it less likely to react to fireworks. Take your dog out for an extra-long walk to wear it out before the fireworks start or take some time to play with your dog. You can also provide a couple of distractions during the fireworks such as a puzzle toy stuffed with some tasty treats.
Making sense of it all
As much fun as fireworks are for humans, dogs don’t naturally enjoy this type of celebration. However, by preparing in advance you’re able to enjoy it with your best bud by your side or knowing that your dog is safe and relaxed. If your dog shows severe signs of anxiety that none of these tips help, talk to your vet about the possibility of using medication like pheromones or melatonin to help it through the holidays. Your vet will be able to guide you through the different options.