How To Help Calm A Dog Scared Of Fireworks: 5 Best Strategies

by Kaelee Nelson
Pawlicy Advisor
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How To Help Calm A Dog Scared Of Fireworks: 5 Best Strategies
Here are the best ways to help dogs that are scared of fireworks, according to findings on noise phobias and canine anxiety.

While fireworks might be a fun and exciting way to celebrate holidays like Memorial Day and Independence Day, they can be a source of anxiety and fear to our dogs.

But why are dogs scared of fireworks? And is there anything we can do to help calm our anxious pets? Fortunately, there are a number of strategies dog owners can use to help their canine friends, ranging from weighted vests to prescription medications.

In this post, we’re rounding up the best tips on what to do if your dog is scared of fireworks. Here’s what we’ll cover:

Are dogs afraid of fireworks?

As many as 50% of dogs suffer from fear of fireworks, according to survey results published by New York Times.

Whether or not loud sounds make your pet to freak out will depend on several factors. Some dogs may have a genetic predisposition to noise aversion but experiences and socialization also play an important role in the development of noise sensitivity.

It should be noted that your four-legged friend will also take cues from you. That’s why it's important not only to keep your dog calm but to also remain calm yourself.

Why are dogs afraid of fireworks?

So, what makes some dogs react to sounds with fear? Here are a few reasons:

Lack of socialization

According to a recent study, 52% out of 1225 dogs were at least partially affected by firework fears, and the majority developed a fear of fireworks in the first year of life. Without proper puppy socialization, dogs might become anxious and fearful of anything unfamiliar. Traumatic experiences and social transmission (i.e. behavior learned from other dogs) can also contribute to noise aversion.

Age-related changes in sensory perception

Noise sensitivity might develop during a puppy's socializing stage (three to 12 weeks of age) or during the initial time of fear sensitivity (eight to ten weeks). Puppies are exiting the socialization process during the juvenile period (3-14 months) and may show fear of the unfamiliar. Noise aversions can develop during adolescence (between five and 36 months) or in adult dogs when they reach social maturity (two to three years).

Noise sensitivity in dogs has also been linked to certain medical conditions such as pain (for instance, arthritis or ear infection), which are especially prominent in senior and geriatric dogs (seven years and older).

Genetic markup

In addition to age and past experiences, some dog breeds may have a higher prevalence of noise aversion and, therefore, are more afraid of fireworks. For example, in a study of 5,257 dogs, the intensity of fear toward fireworks in the Shiba Inu and Border Collie was significantly greater than that demonstrated by the Great Dane and Boxer.

The same study found that, with respect to loud noise:

  • Female dogs were 1.3 times more likely to be fearful
  • Neutered dogs were 1.7 times more likely to demonstrate fear
  • The odds of being fearful increased by 3.4% for each additional year in age

Evolution

Loud, unpredictable sounds, accompanied by bright flashes of light can trigger intense anxiety (known as “noise phobia”), which is the result of canine evolution. Evolution has trained dogs and other animals that avoiding a perceived threat is worth it for overall survival, even if the threat doesn’t end up being real — like in the case of fireworks.

As you can see, the reasons why dogs are scared of fireworks are many and complex. The most important thing is to recognize whether your four-legged friend exhibits dog fireworks anxiety symptoms so you can then learn how to calm his or her nerves.

Signs of dog fireworks anxiety

Fear can be normal and adaptive, but phobias are excessive anxiety responses that result in extremely fearful behaviors. The time it takes for the dog to recover from the noise will indicate whether the behavior is normal or maladaptive. If left untreated, noise phobias will certainly worsen, with a fear of one sound likely to spread to other noises.

Behavioral signs of noise phobia in dogs

  • Excessive barking
  • Licking or shaking
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Drooling (hypersalivation)
  • Panting or overheating
  • Pacing back and forth
  • Experiencing tremors or shaking
  • Following people
  • Hiding or cowering

Risks associated with fear of fireworks in dogs

Dogs have been known to injure themselves from trying to escape the sound of fireworks. They might clear a backyard fence, jump through a window, run out the door, wedge themselves beneath furniture, or gnaw and scratch at a door frame until they bleed. Possible injuries include:

  • Lacerations
  • Abrasions
  • Broken bones
  • Head trauma
  • Internal bleeding
  • Suffocation
  • Life-threatening tremors due to heat
  • Even death by accidental injury

If your dog’s fear of fireworks leads to an accidental injury, know how to recognize whether you need to take your pet to the emergency vet. It may also benefit you to keep a pet first-aid kit on hand to address minor cuts or abrasions possibly sustained if your dog freaks out at fireworks.

Additionlly, more pets run away on holidays with firework celebrations (like the Fourth of July) than other days of the year. To increase your odds of reunification if your pet were to escape, make sure that people can identify your dog and get in touch with you upon finding them. It's a good idea to get your dog microchipped and attach identification tags to their collar before the celebrations, just in case they manage to get out.

If your pet runs off out of fear, they could also jump into oncoming traffic, potentially resulting in your dog getting hit by a car — another scary scenario that can cost thousands of dollars and even their life.

Even mild fear of noise in dogs has broad effects. It can impair a dog’s ability to move, learn, problem-solve, listen, etc. For instance, a dog that normally has good recall might not come at the sound of its name or know how to navigate home if they were lost.

Ideally, a dog afraid of fireworks should be insulated from the loud noise in a safe, enclosed room where they cannot hurt themselves.

How to help a dog scared of fireworks

There are several measures you can put in place to keep your dog calm during fireworks:

Pack a bag full of treats

If your dog is afraid of fireworks, then offering treats during the show can not only distract them from the commotion, but the food can actually alter your dog’s mood to be in a less anxious state. Give them a treat, one at a time, to help reinforce a pleasant experience with the loud fireworks noise. You can also freeze a Kong toy filled with a mixture of kibble and baby food puree made from safe fruits or vegetables to occupy their attention.

This process, known as counterconditioning, works by changing your pet’s emotional response, feelings, or attitude toward a certain stimulus — in this case, the sound of firework explosions. The goal is to eventually replace your dog’s fear response to fireworks with a positive association. Ideally, this should be done while your pet is still young and within the prime window for puppy socialization.

Practice ahead of time

Prepare in advance by playing YouTube videos of fireworks shows, starting with short, quiet increments and gradually increasing the intensity of sound and duration. Gradual exposure helps build confidence and desensitizes them to the stimulus.

Exhaust their energy

Do an intense workout or rigorous playtime before the fireworks to tire them out. Dogs that are tired and well-fed tend to be less anxious.

Create physical distance

For dogs deathly terrified of fireworks, consider leaving them inside, at home, or at a friend/family member's house away from the noise. When possible, it may be the safest option for dogs with severe firework anxiety. If you plan to place your dog in a kennel, be sure to do so only if they’re already comfortable with it.

Muffle the sound

Drown out the sound of the fireworks by keeping your windows closed and turning up the TV or radio. An air conditioner, hairdryer, fan, or white noise generator can also be helpful if your pet isn't afraid of these sounds. You should also consider purchasing noise-blocking ear muffs for dogs.

Comfort your dog

If your pet is frightened, don’t ignore them. Owners can provide a buffer against stress, so be sure to be there for your pet. If you’re wondering how to calm a dog scared of fireworks, the best way to help them through it is by staying calm and positive. The emotions we display can impact dogs’ state of mind, so don’t become irritable or impatient by their display of anxiety. Understand that it is a visceral response.

Try an anxiety vest

Anti-anxiety vests are believed to calm dogs through the application of constant pressure, mimicking what their mother did to the litter. According to one study, 79% of pet owners said that anxiety wraps were somewhat to totally effective in helping with dogs’ fear of fireworks.

Talk to your vet

Ask your vet how to calm a dog scared of fireworks. Your vet can rule out any other medical conditions that might cause or worsen your pet’s fearful response. They will also prescribe medication and design the most effective treatment plan.

Hire a professional

Dogs that experience extreme fear or phobic behaviors as a result of fireworks should get professional help. Your vet will be able to refer you to a trainer or board-certified veterinary behaviorist.

What can I give my dog for fireworks anxiety?

Vets may prescribe medication such as Trazodone to reduce anxiety in stressful situations, like fireworks. It works by inhibiting activity at certain serotonin receptors in the brain and can be administered as needed, once daily, or as often as every 12 hours. Other dog fireworks anxiety medication options might include Silio or Alprazolam.

If my dog is scared of fireworks, can I give them Benadryl?

No, only a veterinarian can prescribe medication for a dog’s fireworks anxiety. Do not give your dog over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription drugs made for humans, as these are two of the most dangerous household toxins for dogs and can easily result in accidental overdose.

Talk to your vet about your dog’s anxiety, especially if it’s a behavioral disorder that occurs regularly, outside of holiday celebrations.

What’s the best way to calm a dog scared of fireworks?

An online survey investigated treatment and management methods for firework fear in dogs and their effectiveness. The four management strategies included:

  • Environmental modification- keeping windows closed, playing music, and providing a hiding place
  • Feed/play - providing the dog with food, chews, and toys during fireworks
  • Alternative - use of calming homeopathic remedies, herbal products, pheromones, and nutraceuticals
  • Interaction - petting, allowing body contact, and talking to the animal when loud noises occurred

Only the feed/play approach was statistically connected with a reduced fear response.

Improvements were seen by 69% of dog owners with prescription medicine, with high success rates reported for the most often prescribed pharmaceuticals, Sileo (74%) and alprazolam (91%).

Anti-anxiety vests were found to be beneficial by 44% of owners, while counterconditioning (offering positive stimuli following the occurrence of loud noises) was deemed the most effective method for alleviating dogs' fear of fireworks, successful in more than 70% of participating pups.

Relaxation training was almost as effective at 69%, whereas noise CDs were shown to be useful in 55% of cases. As a result, counterconditioning, relaxation training, and anxiolytic drugs appear to be the best ways to help dogs that are scared of fireworks.

How NOT to help a dog’s fear of fireworks

  • Do not give your dog a tranquilizer, such as Acepromazine. This can be severely traumatic for dogs as they are still able to process the unnerving stimuli while sedated, but unable to respond to them.
  • Don’t leave your pet unsupervised outdoors or unattended at home. If you are headed out to enjoy a celebration and know your dog is terrified of fireworks, it's wise to hire a sitter to prevent your pet from accidental self-injury.
  • Don't change your behavior. When their pets show signs of dread, many people feel compelled to try to calm them down by petting them more often than usual or showing extra attention. Rather than alleviating your dog's concerns, this frequently promotes the dog's anxious habits. You should also avoid pressuring your canine friend to seek comfort from you. It's one thing if a dog approaches you, but if not, don't force it.
  • Don't attempt to push your pet past their comfort zone by forcing them closer to the fireworks in order to get them habituated to the sounds. This may cause the dog to become more fearful or even hostile. Allow them to hide in his box or beneath a bed if he prefers that.
  • Don't punish your dog because he or she is terrified. This is a natural reaction, and punishing them will just make their behavior worse. It is preferable to provide comfort and employ distraction strategies.

Final tips on how to safely enjoy fireworks with dogs

  • If you haven’t already, microchip your dog and make sure the info is up-to-date before the big day.
  • Know when the firework show starts and give yourself plenty of time for exercise and potty breaks beforehand, so your dog won’t have to hold it during an already stressful time.
  • Create a Quiet Zone inside for your dog to hang out in where they cannot hurt themselves and the sound of explosions is muffled out.
  • Desensitize your dog beforehand and distract them during the show by offering their favorite treats and toys.
  • Consider signing up for pet insurance so that you can be protected against unexpected costs related to your dog such as hefty vet bills. Some pet insurance providers cover medication for pet anxiety, as well as behavioral therapy that is recommended by your veterinarian. Pawlicy Advisor can help you find a pet insurance plan that best fits your dog’s needs and your budget.

About the author

Kaelee Nelson

Professional Dog Trainer & Animal Behavioralist - Pawlicy Advisor

Kaelee Nelson is a die-hard dog mom, part-time dog trainer, and ultimate pet enthusiast. She recently rescued a puppy named Zoey who went from the streets of Mexico to the big lights in L.A. after Kaelee helped her become officially studio-trained for production work, with the goal of strengthen her dog's confidence as well as the bond they share. Kaelee remains passionate about pets in her role as Content Marketing Manager by helping owners prepare for the financial burden that often comes with giving our furry BFFs the best care possible. Enrolling Zoey in a pet insurance policy was a no-brainer for Kaelee, as it enabled her to get reimbursed for vet costs like spaying, vaccinations, routine care, and more.

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