A fear of fireworks is a fairly common phobia for dogs. They often find the loud, unpredictable noise and bright displays of light truly frightening. Even a seemingly confident dog can tremble and drool at the unfamiliar sounds. The good news is that there are a few things you can do to help your dog get through the festivities.
Desensitize Your Dog to the Sound of Fireworks
If you have some time before the 4th of July or an anticipated fireworks display in your neighborhood, you can begin getting your dog used to the sounds.
This is referred to as desensitization, and it can be done in a few simple steps:
- Find a video or recording of fireworks.
- Play the video or recording at the lowest possible volume a few times during the day.
- Pair the sound of the fireworks with things your dog likes, such as treats, meals, cuddle time, or a game of tug-of-war.
- Slowly begin to raise the volume of the recording or video over the course of several days, and continue to pair the sound of fireworks with good things for your dog.
- If at any point your dog begins to show signs of fear, turn the volume down to a point where he feels more comfortable.
- Repeat this several times each day until your dog can hear the sounds of the fireworks at a fairly high volume without becoming fearful.
Help Ease Your Dog's Fears
If you don't have time to prepare for the fireworks, or if desensitization hasn't ended your dog's fear of fireworks completely, there are things you can do to help ease his fears.
These things may help with dogs who have a mild to moderate fear of fireworks.
- Don't change your behavior. Many people feel compelled to baby their dogs when the dog is showing signs of fear. We pet them more than usual, cuddle them, and talk to them in soft voices. Rather than easing a dog's fears, however, this often reinforces the dog's fearful behaviors.
- Try not to react to the fireworks yourself. If you jump or tense up when you hear fireworks because you are anticipating your dog's fear, you may make his fear worse. Your body language can tell a dog that there is a reason to be afraid.
- Drown out the sound of the fireworks. Try to turn up the radio or television and keep your windows closed during the fireworks. If the weather permits, a fan or air conditioner (if your dog isn't afraid of those sounds) can help, too.
- Don't push your dog past his comfort zone. Allow him to hide if he feels more comfortable in his crate or under a bed. Don't pull him out or try to force him closer to the fireworks in an attempt to get him used to the sounds. This may result in an increase in fear, and a frightened dog may become aggressive if pushed past his comfort level.
Dealing with a Dog's Severe Fear of Fireworks
In the case of a severe phobia, nothing may work to ease your dog's fear. If there's a chance your dog make exhibit this level of fear, talk to your veterinarian about medication.
He may be able to prescribe an anti-anxiety medication or sedative to keep your dog calm during the fireworks.
Medication may be the only answer to get through the fireworks this season. As soon as the fireworks stop, however, you can begin preparing for the next one with a program of desensitization. A trainer or behaviorist may also be helpful. In severe cases, you may not ever be completely successful in eradicating the phobia, but you may be able to ease some of your dog's fear.
Leave the Dog at Home
If your dog is extremely frightened of fireworks, the best solution may be to leave him at home in a safe, escape-proof space (like his crate or favorite room) with white noise playing to drown out the sound of any area fireworks. A frightened dog may attempt to run away and seek shelter if forced to attend a fireworks display. Many animal shelters report a high rate of lost pet incidents around July 4th.
Edited by Jenna Stregowski, RVT