We love our dogs, but they can certainly be a handful when someone lights a firecracker in the street or fireworks blast across town. Dogs and fireworks simply don’t mix. This is why pet parents need to know how they can keep their pups calm or teach them not to be afraid of fireworks in the long term.
Not sure where to start, or not sure whether your dog will take to a given strategy? Good news: there are lots of tips you can use to calm down your dog who has a fear of fireworks.
Let us help you keep your pup calm with a step-by-step guide below.
Why Keeping Your Pup Calm Is Important
Independence day celebration fireworks, thunderstorms, and even airplanes flying overhead can all turn a pleasant and polite pup into a scared and frantic animal. We all like to think of our dogs as civilized friends and family members. But sometimes, dogs can be frightened into doing strange behaviors when they encounter loud noises or bangs they don’t understand.
Some dogs will simply run and hide, but others will have a fight response instead of a flight response. They may decide to tear into furniture or even snarl and become mean if you try to calm them during a loud event.
The damage could be even worse if you have a large dog with a lot of physical power. Regardless, keeping your pup calm is very important so that they don’t hurt themselves or engage in destructive habits.
Fortunately, when fireworks come around (either because of the Fourth of July or other celebrations), there are lots of ways you can make things easier on your pup or even train them not to react so negatively.
Let's break down these strategies for dog owners one by one.
Double Down on Crate Training
The first thing you can do is double down on crate training immediately. You should already be performing crate training with your dog if they are new to your home. Crate training teaches them that their sleeping crate is a place of comfort, and it trains them to go there each night for sleep.
Crate training also teaches your dog that they can go to their crate whenever they are overwhelmed, such as during fireworks season. Your dog will think of the crate as a safe, secure place. They may voluntarily opt to simply chew their favorite toy and calm themselves down in their crate if they have been properly trained.
In the lead-up to the Fourth of July, you can double down on crate training. Reinforce this training with treats, praise, and by not letting your dog sleep in your bed with you. You can also experiment with placing a towel or blanket over your dog's crate, which can create an artificial cave for them to hide out in. But your dog may not like this, depending on its personality or breed.
Give Your Dog a Hiding Place
By the same token, you can give your dog a separate hiding place if they resist crate training. A place underneath your couch or in a closet can work—usually for smaller dogs. However, keep in mind that your dog may nervously chew or tear things in the area during fireworks.
Because of this possibility, any hiding place that isn’t your dog’s crate should be chosen carefully. Make sure to remove any potentially hazardous materials beforehand. When the fireworks start, you can guide your dog to the hiding place and see if they take to it.
If your dog does like the hiding place, check on them periodically and give them a pet to show them that everything is okay and you are still around to protect them.
Use a Thundershirt/Anxiety Wrap
A ThunderShirt is a type of a secure and relatively tight shirt or vest you can put on your dog. Why does it work? As it turns out, an anxiety vest mostly works because it reassures your dog and gives them a sense of physical security.
In fact, many human babies are the same way – they like to be swaddled tightly rather than loosely. While your adult dog may not be the same as a human baby, they could respond in the same way to the snug, comforting presence of an anxiety vest.
That said, some dogs definitely don’t like anxiety wrap, so your mileage may vary with this tip. If you don’t know whether your pup will appreciate an anxiety wrap, give it a try but remember that you may have to take it off and rely on an alternative calming strategy if it does not have a calming effect or they hate it.
You should also take care not to tighten any anxiety vest too much. If you tighten it too much, your dog may not like the shirt even if they would normally.
Try Exposure Therapy
Your next bet is to use exposure therapy with your canine companion. Exposure therapy for dogs, just like humans, involves exposing your dog to their triggers and gradually showing them that the loud noises of the fireworks can’t hurt them.
But just like in humans, exposure therapy is far from guaranteed to work. So don’t feel too bad if your dog doesn’t respond well to exposure therapy, as there are lots of other ways you can help them (as you can see from the strategies above and below). When looking to work on your dog's fears or phobias, it is best to contact a dog trainer or animal behaviorist to make sure the desensitization process is being handled correctly.
To practice exposure therapy with your dog:
- Turn fireworks on the TV or phone at a low volume at first. Then turn the volume up over time if they don’t seem too frightened by the initial images.
If your dog panics at any point, it might be best to try another strategy. You don’t want to unduly upset your pup, especially since doing so could cause them to react even more extremely the next time real fireworks occur.
Leave the TV On
In many cases, dogs react poorly to fireworks because it’s all that their sensitive ears can pick up. Dogs have highly sensitive ears compared to us humans. Any firework explosions are much more dramatic and loud for them than they are for us, even though thick walls.
You can make fireworks a little more tolerable for your dog by turning the TV on and leaving it on at a moderate volume. This gives your dog something else to listen to while the fireworks go on outside. This might be the best choice if you have to leave your pup for any amount of time during the Fourth of July or if you decide to go see fireworks with your family.
Put them in their crate securely and make sure they don’t have anything they can chew or tear up while you are away. Then turn on the TV (preferably to something soothing, like gentle classical music) to distract your dog and make the fireworks a little more manageable.
Take Your Dog on a Walk
If you have the time, it might be wise to take your dog for a long walk before fireworks occur. For example, if you know that your town is going to have a fireworks show at 8 PM, you should take your dog on a walk around 7 PM or so.
In a lot of cases, your dog might just be too hyped up or energized to respond well to any of the above remedies. Giving them time to stretch their legs and get rid of some excess energy could do wonders for keeping them calm during a fireworks show.
This is doubly true if your dog is a hyper or energetic breed. Feel free to take your dog to the park and run them around for the same beneficial reasons. Just make sure you have a comfortable leash and harness so that your dog is safe and secure and has a great time walking with you.
Close the Curtains
Depending on how your house is set up, you might also close the curtains to big windows. This prevents the flashes of the fireworks from affecting your dog, which can act as a trigger or cue that big explosions or loud sounds are about to occur.
Or you might consider using quieting curtains, which are thicker than average and which can block out some of the sounds from outdoors. But this might not be very compatible with your home setup, and you may not want to put the curtains up and take them down frequently just to accommodate your dog's sensitive ears.
Try Anti-Anxiety Medication or Supplements
If all else fails, pet parents can also use anti-anxiety medication for their pups. However, anti-anxiety meds are only usually necessary for dogs who simply can’t be calmed down any other way or larger dogs who may hurt themselves or others if they freak out during a fireworks display.
Anti-anxiety prescription medications can include pills, calming treats, tablets, and more. The best anti-anxiety medication can only be prescribed by a veterinarian. If you haven’t used anti-anxiety meds before with your dog, you might consider getting them an over-the-counter calming treat at first. Then, you can see how they do with low-dose medication before upping the dosage.
Alternatively, you might consider using pheromone diffusers. These only work for certain dogs and your veterinarian may or may not recommend them. In general, pheromone diffusers disperse certain calming pheromones into your living room or bedroom.
When used properly, they could calm your dog down and keep them calm throughout even the most intense firework display. Some like using essential oils, but exercise caution as many of these can be dangerous to dogs.
Although anti-anxiety medication can be effective, it’s usually a good idea to practice long-term calming strategies with your dog. This way you don’t have to rely on medication each time they encounter something scary or loud.
A Safe Space in a Storm
All in all, it’s normal for dogs to be worried or scared of fireworks, especially if they are puppies or haven’t been exposed to such dazzling displays before. However, there are lots of ways you can help your pooch cope with fireworks and calm down without tearing a proverbial (or real!) hole in your floor.
For treats, toys, and anything else you may need to distract your dog and make them feel comfortable, rely on Wild One for toys, bedding, and anything else you may need.