Scared dog

Expert Tips on Calming Dogs Down from Fireworks

Why are dogs scared of fireworks? It can be because of things like their sensitive hearing, breed, age, or experiences they had as a puppy. Dogs show their anxiety in many ways, from the obvious barking and hiding to the subtle panting or yawning. Calming dogs down from fireworks requires a layered approach that can include calming supplements, safe places, calming shirts, environmental changes, counterconditioning, and more. When you learn to calm a dog during fireworks, you are helping them stay happy and live their best lives.

8 minute read

If you asked someone in the United States to name a holiday associated with fireworks, they'd probably say the Fourth of July. But the truth is, firework displays have become year-round events. Many holidays now feature fireworks: New Year's Eve, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Veteran's Day, President's Day – even Halloween! This is truly unfortunate for our dogs since it's estimated that 45% of pups feel anxiety or fear when they hear fireworks.

But is it just the loud noises themselves that are scaring our pups? Is it easy to tell if your dog is experiencing anxiety during fireworks? And how can you help them conquer their fears?

a dog looking at fireworks

Why Are Dogs Scared of Fireworks?

There are several reasons why your dog gets scared during fireworks. It’s about more than just the loud noise as we hear it. Here are some of the most common reasons why dogs are scared of fireworks:

1. Sensitive Hearing

Your dog’s hearing isn’t just better than yours - it’s miles better. Your dog can hear sounds four times farther away than you can. They can also hear far higher frequency sounds. That’s why they can hear dog whistles or tell that someone is at your door before you hear a knock.

This means loud noises - like fireworks - can have a massive impact. For a human comparison, if you heard a slightly loud noise it might startle you, but if someone surprised you by setting off an air horn next to your ear you’d probably jump out of your skin! Now imagine that you had no idea what caused the noise or where it was coming from. You’d probably be terrified!

That’s the situation your pup is in when the crack and boom of fireworks start filling the air.

happy corgi

2. Negative Associations from Puppyhood

Events in a dog’s puppyhood can affect them the rest of their life - for better or for worse. A negative association with loud noises, for example, can make them anxious and scared of loud noises from then on. Even pet parents who have had their dog since they were a puppy may not realize what noise associations their dog has had. For example, a puppy may be upset if they have to be left alone for a short time. If they happened to hear a loud noise (like thunder) during that time, they might create an association between loud noises and feeling upset and alone. The pet parents would never even know the source of their dog’s noise anxiety!

Obviously, we want to avoid creating negative associations for our puppies as much as we can, but that isn’t always possible.

3. Genetic Factors

Factors like a dog’s temperament and breed play a role in how sensitive and fearful they are of fireworks and other loud noises. A recent study found that certain breeds, for example, the Cairn terrier, were more likely to be fearful, while others like the Chinese crested were much less so. They also found other genetic factors (like a dog’s size) play a part. Small dogs tend to be more fearful than large dogs.
cairn terrier

4. Environment

Researchers found that certain parts of a dog’s home life can affect how fearful they are.

They discovered that “only dogs” were more likely to be afraid of loud noises while dogs who had dog buddies in the household were less likely to be fearful. Dogs that received training and regular exercise were also less likely to have noise anxiety.

Inexperienced pet parents were more likely to have fearful pups as well. That means reading and learning more about your dog’s behavior really does pay off since it gives you the knowledge and experience to better help your pup!

5. Age

As dogs get older, their hearing becomes less sensitive. While that may seem like it would help them when it comes to loud noises, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Older pups with hearing loss first lose their ability to hear high-frequency sounds. These sounds are what help them figure out where a sound is coming from. Loud noises could mean a threat. Since older dogs can’t tell where those loud noises - and potential threats - are coming from, they get more anxious and frightened.

Signs Your Dog Is Scared of Noises

If your dog runs and hides when fireworks start outside, it’s easy to see he’s afraid. However, not all dogs show their fear in the same way.

It’s up to us pet parents to know our dogs’ signs of anxiety so we can start helping them.

Obvious Signs Your Dog Is Scared of Fireworks

Dogs show they\'re scared in a lot of ways. Here are some of the more overt or obvious signs that they’re anxious or scared:
  • Barking
  • Clinging to you
  • Cowering
  • Hiding
  • Howling
  • Laid-back ears
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Whining or whimpering
scared dog hiding

If we see our pups doing these things, we immediately know something’s wrong. Unfortunately, not all dogs communicate with their humans that clearly. This leads us to…

Less Obvious Signs Your Dog Is Afraid of Fireworks

If only our pets could talk to us when they’re upset, it would make things so much easier. Since they can’t, pet parents often have to play doggy detective to figure out how their furry friends really feel.

Here are some of the more subtle signs that your dog is afraid or anxious:

  • Aggression
  • Destructive behavior
  • Eliminating indoors
  • Licking their lips
  • Not eating
  • Pacing
  • Panting
  • Yawning

This doesn’t mean that every time your dog yawns or pants they’re afraid of something. However, if you notice your dog panting heavily or yawning a lot every time loud noises are nearby, your dog may be scared.

Basically, when you know your dog well, you know when they’re not quite acting like themselves. If you feel something is off, you’re probably right.

dog yawning

How to Calm a Dog During Fireworks

If you see your dog showing signs of anxiety and fear when fireworks are near, don’t worry - there are many things you can do to help calm a dog during fireworks!

Most dogs require a layered approach to helping their anxiety. By combining several of the methods mentioned below, you stand the best chance of helping your fearful pup.

1. Set Up a “Doggy Safe Place”

Set aside a permanent place in your house that is for your dog and your dog alone. It doesn’t have to be very big - it could be a crate, or perhaps a few blankets piled up in a tucked-away corner. It should be in the quietest place in the house, and you should include some of your pup’s favorite items to snuggle or play with.

Your dog should also always have free and easy access to their doggy safe place. That way, when the fireworks or loud noises start, they know there is a place they can go where they will feel safe and secure.

dog in his safe place

2. Give Calming Supplements

If your dog is prone to regular anxiety, you might consider a calming supplement that is safe for daily use. Look for the following all-natural ingredients on the label:
  • Chamomile Flower - one of the safest herbal pet remedies around, it treats stress and anxiety while also reducing inflammation.
  • L-Tryptophan - helps maintain your pet’s serotonin level, which promotes good moods and calm behavior while relieving depression and anxiety.
  • Passion Flower - used for centuries by Native Americans for its mild sedative and pain relief qualities, it can be used for anxiety and insomnia and promote relaxation in dogs.
  • Valerian Root - due to its known mild sedative effects, it is often recommended to help with dog anxiety.
  • Ginger Root - helps combat any nausea and upset stomach your dog may experience when stressed.
Calming supplements can be used for occasional anxiety as well. When you know a stress-inducing event is coming up (like a local firework display or a vet visit), you can start giving them supplements a few days before the event to prepare them. 

3. Walk Your Dog During the Day

Fireworks displays generally happen at night. Especially on major holidays, it’s a good idea to walk your dog during the day so they won’t be exposed to the full, unfiltered noise of large fireworks exploding.

Besides scaring your pup, you could lose them completely! According to PetAmberAlert, a website dedicated to finding lost pets, there is a 30-60% increase in lost pets during the summer season. They attribute it to loud summer noises like fireworks and thunderstorms, which can make a dog run away in fear.

4. Close Windows and Curtains

Keeping windows and curtains closed during a fireworks display will lessen the sounds of any fireworks. As an added benefit, it will also lower the flashes of light that go along with them.

This is also true if your dog is scared of thunderstorms.

5. Try a Calming Shirt, like ThunderShirt

Many dogs are calmed by being wrapped up and feeling snug and secure. This is similar to how swaddling calms a newborn baby - or even how adults can feel safe and relaxed when wrapped up in a blanket.

A very fitted shirt that applies gentle pressure, like a ThunderShirt, may help your dog regain their calm during scary situations.

6. Introduce Sounds in a Safe Way

Before the fireworks season begins, you can introduce your dog to potentially scary sounds gradually and safely. Sites like YouTube have thousands of videos of fireworks, thunderstorms, and other loud noises. Play one of these videos at the lowest volume - loud enough that your pup notices it, but not enough to scare them. Then start playing with them and having fun.The idea is to gradually increase the volume bit by bit over time while keeping up the playful atmosphere. Gradual is the key here. Slowly and patiently let your pup adjust to the new noise over the course of days or weeks and associate it with fun and happy times. 

7. Counterconditioning

If your dog starts showing signs of anxiety during fireworks, your reaction may help them recover - or it could increase their stress.

When a pup sees their human acting fearful or concerned, it tells them there really is something to be afraid of. That’s why frantically trying to comfort our dogs may, ironically, have the opposite effect.Instead, we can use counterconditioning for calming dogs down from fireworks. That means getting our pups to associate loud noise with positive things. The idea is to stay calm and unconcerned while playing with our dog and acting like nothing is out of the ordinary.

One study looked at pet parents who tried counterconditioning by ignoring the firework noises, playing with the dog, giving treats, and saying positive things. They found that dogs who had this counterconditioning were on average 70% less scared than dogs who didn’t!

The Last Woof

Especially as we enter the summertime firework season, it’s important to know and be on the lookout for the different signs of dog anxiety. That way we can be ready to help our pups deal with their fears by providing things like safe places, calming supplements, timely distractions, and a quiet and calm environment. By being in tune with our pup’s feelings, we can help them stay happy, healthy, and living their best lives.
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