For humans, fireworks may be fun during occasions like New Year’s Eve, but they are anything but for dogs that have a fear of them. Did you know that some dogs have such a fear of fireworks that they will jump fences, break through window screens, and even break through glass to get away from the loud booms, injuring themselves in the process?
If your dog suffers from extreme fear of fireworks and you struggle to keep him calm, we have 10 expert tips to help your pooch survive fireworks displays and remain calmer during the loud booms.
Before You Start
A helpful tip that may make a significant difference is through behavior modification, such as desensitization and counterconditioning, in the months leading up to firework displays. In other words, you can start this type of behavior modification when fireworks are less likely to occur—that way, you’ll have a leg up before fireworks blast off.
The purpose of this type of training is to desensitize your dog to intense levels of noise but do it gradually. Exposing your dog to gradual levels of intensity and then rewarding with a treat helps your dog associate the noises with a more positive outcome rather than a fearful one.
Start by having your dog relax in a comfy spot, such as a bed or mat. Once your dog is relaxed, play a firework sound from your phone or another device, but keep the sound level so low your dog does not react. Each time you play the sound, and your dog remains calm, give him a treat and praise. Gradually increase the sound level, and each time your dog doesn’t react, reward him with his favorite treat. Repeat this process as often as needed, but never to the point your dog is uncomfortable or stressed. If he remains stressed, slowly continue the process at slow intervals and be patient.
The 10 Tips for Calming a Dog During Fireworks
1. Try an Anxiety Vest or Thunder Shirt
Anxiety vests or thunder shirts may help some dogs during loud booms. These vests and shirts work by gently keeping your dog’s torso snug with slight pressure, which can reduce anxiety—it gives your dog a “hugging” sensation that can help lower his nervousness. If you’re in a pinch, you can make such a garment using stretchy fabric. Wrap the fabric around your dog’s chest and shoulders, but not so tight that it restricts blood flow.
2. Muffle the Noise
The unpredictable loud boom of thunderstorms can make your dog feel threatened and vulnerable; that’s why muffling the noise is a powerful tool in keeping your dog calm. I can attest to this method because I have tried it on my Border Collie, who is terrified of storms.
Try turning the TV volume up loud enough to drown out the booms. You can also play white noise from a sound machine to help muffle the sounds. These noises will diminish the booms’ impact, allowing your dog to remain calmer.
3. Keep Your Dog Occupied
Distractions may help your dog remain calm during fireworks displays. Try engaging in a play session with your dog with his favorite toy. The goal is to help him focus more on a fun game rather than the loud booms outside. This method may not work for some dogs with extreme firework phobias, but it’s worth a shot. You can even try placing a tasty treat inside a Kong or give him a long lasting chew to keep him busy during the event.
4. Rearrange Your Dog’s Feeding & Potty Schedule
There’s nothing more fearful for a dog than to have a firework explode close to him, which is another even I can attest to—a Roman candle malfunctioned from a neighbor’s yard and landed in mine, right beside my Boston Terrier, who was trying to potty—it terrified him, and he was deathly afraid of fireworks from then on.
Try feeding your dog earlier than normal so that you can take him out to potty before dark and the fireworks even begin. That way, he won’t have to be outside during the fireworks, which sounds like a warzone to your pooch.
5. Comfort Your Dog
You are your dog’s whole world, and if you comfort him, he may be less stressed during the loud booms. Some dog owners may feel that comforting their dog in times of stress will only reinforce his fears, but this often isn’t true during fireworks because they are a legitimate fear.
Sit close to your dog, pet him gently, and offer calm reassurance by using a soft voice. This method will help your dog understand that you are there to protect him, and he can trust you during the stressful time. Never leave your dog home alone if fireworks are likely.
6. Exercise Your Dog Beforehand
A tired dog is a calm dog—this can be true during firework displays too. Go for a long walk (a shorter walk if you have a puppy), or even plan a fun day at the dog park before nightfall. Exercising your dog will help him relax mentally and physically, and he’ll be less likely to react to the loud noises.
7. Create a Safe Place
Does your dog love his crate to relax? If so, use that to your advantage. Allow your dog to go in his crate but leave the door open. Be sure to cover all sides of the crate with a towel or blanket to block the flashes from the fireworks. You can combine this step with muffling the sounds with a sound machine, playing music for them or turning up the volume of the TV to help even further. You should also close all windows and blinds or curtains.
8. Consult Your Veterinarian for Medication
Your vet can prescribe anti-anxiety medications to help keep your dog calm. This method may be the most beneficial for dogs that never seem to get over the stress of such events, and the medication will help relax your dog and make him sleepy. You can also consult your vet about over-the-counter medications that may help.
9. Remain Calm
The last thing you’ll want to do is add to your dog’s stress and anxiety. Don’t raise your voice or talk loudly during the fireworks, and remain calm and relaxed. Use a soft, delicate voice and move slowly throughout the home when moving around—the calmer you are, the calmer your dog may be. Dogs pick up on our body language and the tone of our voice, so keep this in mind when your dog is stressed.
10. Consult a Professional
If your dog is frightened of fireworks or other loud noises even after following our tips, consult your vet as soon as possible. Your veterinarian can check for any underlying medical problems and steer you in the right direction. If they prescribe medications to reduce your dog’s anxiety it should be accompanied by a behavior modification plan and they may refer you to a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.
While firework displays may be fun for humans, the event can be terrifying to a dog. A helpful tool is desensitizing your dog to loud noises so that he’s better prepared when the real deal comes along. However, by implementing the methods mentioned above, you can help your dog make it through without too much stress.
Keep in mind that these methods will also help during thunderstorms, which can be equally terrifying to a dog.