Fireworks and Dogs
Fun Paw Care sees many separation anxiety, fear and phobia cases where loud noises and inanimate objects are high on the list. Natural disasters, earthquakes, thunderstorms, hurricanes, tornadoes, fireworks and loud noises are disconcerting for most dogs. Many dog breeders don’t, but should, socialize, enrich, habituate and desensitize dogs to a variety of loud noises (including fireworks) way before the dog gets to their new home. There are CD’s made just for this purpose where fireworks, loud noises of different pitches, rhythms, tones, and tempos are played to acclimate and habituate dogs to these sounds at a young age so that loud noises such as a car or truck backfiring, thunder, or fireworks all don’t startle your pet.
If you insist on buying a dog from a breeder, you should seek out an ethical breeder who does desensitize your dog to these various stimuli because you are bound to experience many of these loud noises throughout your dog’s life. On July 4th, New Year’s Eve, the next fireworks display, or summer thunderstorm that rolls in, prepare yourself and your dog for the inevitable loud noises that ensue.
Methods to Manage Your Dog’s Fear
- Take your dog for a nice long walk and exercise prior to the event, so they have the opportunity to eliminate and are more relaxed and fulfilled. For most dogs, an exercised dog is a happy dog.
- One of the many ways (but perhaps the easiest) to acclimate your dog to these loud, startling sounds is to simply manage the situation and bring your dog to the interior of the house, basement or a room without windows that is the most isolated from the loud noise / scary stimulus. You can try to soundproof the room in a variety of ways.1-2 Make sure there are no windows or that your windows and shades are fully closed. If you have large openings under the door, you can even put a towel folded up where you would during a fire to help block out any additional noise. Put on soft calming music, preferably loud enough to block out the other sounds. Certain types of classical music are very calming and there are products made specifically for a dog’s ear that are scientifically proven to calm dog’s nerves. Practice during quiet times when there are no loud thunderstorms or fireworks around and go through the same routine as you will during an actual noisy event. Get your pup used to going to this room, listing to calming music and receiving treats. Not just any treats, but the highest value treats that your dog loves.
- Scents and aromatherapy are also proven to calm a dog down.3 Lavender, chamomile and other calming essential oils don’t only help humans settle their nerves but canines as well. However, there are some essential oils that are toxic for your pets. Unlike dogs, cats are much more sensitive to some scents and can also develop toxicities. Products that are safe your dog may not be safe for your cat.9
- Another holistic option is Rescue Remedy by Bach Flower10
- Never take your dog with you to watch the fireworks or leave them home alone to “tough it out” or “deal with it” alone. This is a very traumatic and stressful event for your dog, and they need your help and supervision at home where they are most comfortable.
- Remember, emotions are not reinforceable, behaviors are. Petting your dog and comforting them will not encourage your dog to be scared or afraid. Just as you would comfort your child when they are petrified and scared for their life, so should you comfort your dog.
- There are thunder shirts or dog anxiety vests that have shown to make dogs feel less stressed.4-6,8 These products are used in separation anxiety cases as well. Of course, do not forget to praise your dog with treats and affection especially when they are calm and relaxed. Try your best to engage your pup and occupy their mind with dog training (simple behaviors that they know very well). Treat heavily for these simple behaviors which work to build confidence. Dog training builds confidence and security while rewarding your dog with their favorite toys and juiciest treats.
- Another worthy product that helps with anxiety is a Dog Appeasing Pheromone (D.A.P.) One such product is Adaptil7, sold as a collar or plug-in diffuser. This is a synthetic pheromone that works by releasing pheromones that are released when a mother dog is lactating, giving your dog a sense of well-being and reassurance.
- Make sure your dog is wearing their collar with ID and is microchipped that is up-to-date. If the worst happens and your dog escapes, this is your best bet at recovering your dog. Holidays where there are fireworks are the scariest time for dogs. Hence, this is when they escape most from home. July fourth and New Year’s Eve are also the busiest time of year for animal shelters.
- There is no substitute for a great behavior modification protocol, systematic desensitization and counterconditioning (D/CC). A sound behavior modification protocol will be a long-term solution in conjunction with medicines, or the above holistic aids.
Before you know it you may turn thunderstorms, fireworks and loud noises into an event your dog enjoys, or at least doesn’t dread.
3. Aromatherapy for travel-induced excitement in dogs. Wells DL. JAVMA229:964-967, 2006.