Fireworks are a staple during celebrations in the United States. New Year's Eve, the Fourth of July, and the Super Bowl are just some of the holidays and events that we celebrate with fireworks. In an ideal world, we would be enjoying these colorful lights in the sky with our canine best friends, but it's often not the case.
Many dogs are afraid of fireworks, and when things get loud, several pet parents find themselves trying to comfort their pup instead of celebrating the occasion. Reactions range from shaking and hiding to trying to get out of the house. Because dogs have a better sense of hearing than we do, they have a heightened response to loud sounds. What can we do to help our furry friends cope with fireworks?
The Root of the Behavior
Before we go into the how, we need to look at the why. There are a few reasons why your dog may be scared of fireworks, and the first one is that they perceive it as a threat. From an evolutionary perspective, most animals, including canines, have learned that avoiding a perceived threat is crucial to survival even if it ends up not being one. In other words, it pays to err on the side of caution even when it's not necessary. Puppies who have not been exposed to different stimuli, including sounds, will tend to have a harder time adapting to new experiences as adults.
For some dogs, especially those who are tethered outside, the fear of loud sounds is a learned phobia. Because they inadvertently choke themselves when they try to run away from the noise, they end up associating fireworks with terror.
Genetics can also play a role in a dog's inherent predisposition to fear. Multiple studies have found that factors such as breed, age, sex, and reproductive status influenced how dogs reacted to fireworks and other sounds. For example, certain breeds are more likely to be afraid of fireworks than mixed-breed dogs, and older canines who lose the ability to locate sounds have a higher tendency to display fearful behavior as well.
Encouraging the Behavior
A dog who is afraid of fireworks may tremble, hold their ears back, and tuck their tail. Some canines react by hiding under the bed, running away, clawing through a wall, or even jumping from a second-story window! Fortunately, all hope is not lost for dogs who are spooked by fireworks.
First and foremost, remove your dog from the noisy environment. Usually, that means bringing them indoors. But keep in mind that canines hear two times more frequencies than we do. They can also hear sounds that are four times farther away, so merely keeping them in a room may not be enough.
A 2020 study found that at-home counterconditioning was one of the most effective ways to alleviate a dog's fear of fireworks. Playing with your dog, giving them treats, and expressing positive emotions when the fireworks start can help them feel less stressed. In addition, you can mask the noise by playing music, preferably classical, at high volume.
If there is time to prepare before a fireworks celebration, desensitization is another effective approach. With desensitization, you play the frightening sound at a volume so low that there is no negative response and pair it with a treat or game. The volume can be increased gradually as long as your dog doesn't display any signs of fear such as yawning, pacing, or showing the whites of their eyes.
Other Solutions and Considerations
The best way to help your pup with their fear of fireworks is to prevent it from developing in the first place. If you adopt your dog as a puppy, it's important to expose them to various stimuli during the critical socialization period, which ends at around 14 to 16 weeks of age. Exposing your puppy to different sights, sounds, smells, events, and people will help them become a happy, confident, and well-rounded dog. The more new and positive experiences they can have within the critical socialization period, the better they'll be able to deal with changes in their environment as an adult, and that includes fireworks.
Survival instincts, negative experiences, and genetics are at play when it comes to fear of fireworks in dogs. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to help scared pups cope with the loud noises.
Need some help getting your dog calm around fireworks? Chat with a veterinary expert to get tips and answers about your pet’s behavior, health and more!
By hannah hollinger
Published: 02/06/2018, edited: 06/06/2022