Fireworks are a fun staple of summer festivities, but animals don’t always share our enthusiasm for celebratory booms. Many pet parents can attest to being concerned about their animals, particularly during the peak fireworks season. Dogs’ ears are more sensitive than humans’, picking up sounds four times farther away than people’s ears can. It’s no wonder a series of unpredictable explosions can be terrifying for your pet.
The snap, crackle, and pops can cause fearful pets to run away in desperate search of a safe haven. Firework noises are especially alarming for pets, and more times than not, pets tend to be afraid of fireworks.
That’s why July 5 is historically the busiest day of the year for animal shelters—intake numbers skyrocket following Fourth of July fireworks displays as many pets escape their homes in panic caused by the explosions. Hence, understanding how fireworks affect dogs is essential for any responsible pet parent.
How to Handle Firework Freakouts
The good news is that there are steps you can take to prevent a firework freakout. For instance, if your pup is scared of fireworks or loud noises, don’t leave them unsupervised outdoors, even in fenced yards. Dogs are more likely to attempt an escape when startled by noisy loud bangs and pops. Fireworks displays can be particularly intense, leading to heightened fireworks anxiety.
While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, a number of experts point to reputable stress-management methods to turn anxious dogs into calm dogs during fireworks season. Form a plan to stay indoors with your pup and use this guide to prevent the impending fireworks anxiety.
PLAY MUSIC OR WHITE NOISE
Leaving the TV on or playing music can help to drown out some of the thunderous bangs. Loud sounds and flashing lights can be particularly jarring for anxious dogs. You can also try turning on a loud fan and or playing white noise for the ultimate commotion curtailment against fireworks anxiety.
Many pet owners turn to dog-friendly music, like the ones featured in this YouTube channel called Relax My Dog. With hours of music, the videos can help to relax and distract your pup from the dreaded fireworks anxiety.
CREATE A SAFE SPACE
A fear-free fortress is a space where your dog can enjoy a quiet retreat and creature comforts when they are scared of fireworks. This safe space can be a dog-friendly room, playpen, or crate. The key is decking out the space with things they love: their favorite bed, food puzzles, toys, and treats. These positive associations can help your pup feel more comfortable amid fireworks anxiety.
Trainer Mikkel Becker suggests setting up the fortress well before fireworks season. This allows plenty of time for a dog to acclimate and bond with the new environment so they’re well acquainted with their new hiding places when the fireworks anxiety hits its peak.
Keeping the door open also gives your pet freedom to go in and out as they grow more comfortable spending time in their new safe space.
COOK UP DISTRACTIONS
Fixing up your dog’s favorite foods can give your pup something to feel good about when they are scared of fireworks. Fireworks anxiety can lead to a fight or flight response, so distracting them can be very helpful. Veterinary behaviorist Ilana Reisner has this helpful suggestion:
“Before the fireworks start, cook up irresistible food such as chicken breast, special meat or salmon cookies, microwave tiny bits of nitrate-free hot dogs, and popcorn. Stock a treat bag. Feed one piece at a time to your dog throughout the fireworks to counter condition and distract. If your dog is willing, make a game of it and ask her to sit down, “find it,” shake hands and other distracting cues. Freeze a Kong with kibble mixed with baby food. Feed dinner through the toy. (Reisner, 2014)”
Food can be an excellent distraction from the fireworks outside. Prepare your pet’s favorite foods and high-value treats to keep their interest and distract them from the noise and their anxiety.
ID YOUR PET
Make sure your pet is wearing identification that contains up-to-date information. Identification tags should include your pup’s name and at least one phone number. Make sure to choose the phone number for the family member who’s most likely to answer or regularly check voicemail.
If a dog escapes or goes missing when the fireworks go bang, an ID tag and microchip will be crucial to safely reuniting them with their families.
Read More: What To Put on Your Pet ID Tag
Also be sure to keep a photo of your dog on hand to show to neighbors or post on social media in the event they go missing.
SHOW SOME LOVE
When your dog is anxious, a little love and attention go a long way. It’s essential to understand the pet’s anxiety, especially during fireworks displays. The powerful noise phobia associated with loud noises can be mitigated with your calming presence.
“It’s important to remain calm and use a soothing, even tone. Petting them can be comforting—long, slow, firm strokes along the length of their body are typically very soothing,” Jenn Stanley, certified behavior consultant and professional dog trainer, tells the American Kennel Club.
Avoid frantic and rapid tones of voice, Stanley advises. Higher-pitched tones may signal to your dog to think that there is, in fact, something to fear. The important thing is to approach and talk to your animal in a serene and reassuring manner. After all, nothing tops the power of love.
CONSIDER ANXIETY APPAREL
Certain vests and shirts can help dogs feel more secure and at ease, especially those scared of fireworks. These apparel items utilize pressure and comfort to counteract the anxiety many dogs experience. By providing a sense of security, they can help negate the overwhelming sensations from loud noises and flashing lights during firework events.
Thundershirts, a popular choice for anti-anxiety apparel, are designed to apply gentle, constant pressure to calm all types of anxiety, according to their website.
This hoodie is another option that’s not only adorable but can also help muddle noises that might frighten your pet, the manufacturer says.
If you’re in a pinch, try outfitting your pup in a snug-fitting T-shirt for a similar effect.
TALK TO YOUR VET
If your dog’s anxiety is severe, nothing beats booking an appointment with a veterinarian to discuss medications or supplements to help ease firework fear. Fireworks anxiety can be similar to separation anxiety, and understanding these canine anxieties is crucial.
Your vet can provide expert guidance tailored to your dog’s specific needs. Each dog is unique, and what works for one might not necessarily work for another. Regular check-ups and open communication with your vet ensure your dog’s well-being during stressful situations.
Ensuring Peaceful Celebrations
Navigating the challenges between dogs and fireworks doesn’t have to be daunting. With understanding and proactive measures, pet parents can help their furry companions find comfort and security. By integrating these strategies, from creating a safe space to consulting with your vet, you can ensure that fireworks season remains a time of celebration for everyone.
Remember, understanding and addressing your dog’s fireworks anxiety is a testament to the bond and love shared between owner and pet. Here’s to peaceful and joyous celebrations ahead!