8 min read
Expert Tips: Keeping Your Dog Calm and Safe During Fireworks
By Wag! Staff
Published: 12/21/2022, edited: 12/21/2022
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Do fireworks send your furry companion over the edge? Do those loud bangs make your canine pal hide, pant or shake? Sometimes it is difficult to know the exact cause of your pet’s anxiety, but if they are sensitive to firework noises, a celebratory time for us can be a source of fear for your canine pal.
Whether your pet is anxious because they are scared of the sounds or they have very sensitive hearing that gives them pain during times of loudness, their anxiety should be taken seriously. Just like people that have anxiety, your dog may need a little help to ride out the fireworks display.
We've got some furbulous tips to help your dog through the loud moments of a fireworks celebration, as well as how to help your dog be less afraid when they occur, and more!
How do I keep my dog calm during fireworks?
We love our pups, and never want to see them upset or afraid. Luckily, they have us to help reassure and protect them when things get scary. So, how to do you know when your dog needs a little help?
When the fireworks start, those loud booms and shrieks can make some dogs hide, whether that's in a back room, in a corner, on a bed under covers, or their crate. Dogs can show anxious signs such as panting, pacing, or shaking, and may even be extra clingy or snuggly as they come to you for comfort. Here's how you can help:
Give your dog a place to go
If your pet is introduced to a safe haven, especially from a very young age, they will always have a place to go in times of stress. A “safe haven” can be a crate with the door left open so they can come and go as they please, a corner in the room with lots of blankets and pillows, or a small den or spare bedroom. If the loudness tends to be unbearable, you can even make your pup's safe haven in a basement as this may muffle the sounds a bit. As long as this special space is comfortable and easily accessible, your pet will find comfort in knowing that a getaway spot is there for them.
Distract your dog
Fireworks can be loud and hard to ignore, but spending time with your furry buddy and their favorite toys or treats can be a welcome distraction. Fill a chew toy, lick mat or puzzle game with dog-friendly peanut butter or your pup's furvorite treats and watch them enjoy the taste and mental stimulation as they play and eat. Adding another noise to drown out the negative sounds, such as music, the television, a fan, or a “white noise” machine, can also distract your pup from the loud noises outside. This can be turned on before the fireworks begin if you know ahead of time, or as needed.
Wrap your dog up
Pressure has been used to treat anxiety in people for years, and it can be an ideal solution for your anxious pet. An anxiety wrap, such as a ThunderShirt, is a garment that applies pressure to your dog's torso and has the same calming effect as swaddling a newborn. With the feeling of a hug or being held, the pressure helps keep your best buddy calm and less scared.
Get your pup tuckered out
Tire your furry companion out with an extra-long walk or play session at the dog park before the fireworks show starts. Also be sure to take them out for a potty break before the show starts and make sure they have something on their stomach to reduce the chances of nervous urination or retching. All this combined with a cozy crate in a secluded area and a form of white noise to drown out the sound may allow your dog to snooze through the entire event.
Play soothing music
Just like for people, music can be used to calm pets. But also like us, our pets may be attracted to different kinds of music. According to a study that measured how different genres of music can reduce stress levels in dogs, researchers discovered that soft rock and reggae tended to be better at relaxing pups in a kennel. They also noted that many dogs got used to the type of music which reduced the calming effect, therefore, it is suggested that many dogs would prefer a variety of music to listen to. Try out some different types of music to see which ones cause the highest level of relaxation, often measured by how much time a dog spends lying down rather than standing while listening, and have them at the ready when fireworks are on the horizon.
Need a quick music fix? Try some of these YouTube playlists for pets:
- Calming music for dogs
- 10 Hours of playful, calming Reggae and soft rock for puppies
- Classical music for pets
Try an anxiety product
Anxiety products can come in many forms. While we have already discussed the anxiety wrap, there are several other items available to help your dog get through stressful moments. Here are a few ideas to try before the big fireworks show to see what may help when fear strikes.
- Anti-anxiety medications prescribed by your vet
- Synthetic pheromones, available as sprays, wipes or diffusers, that can give your dog a sense of well-being and safety
- A stuffed animal that your dog can cuddle when alone or scared
- Dog chews formulated to help reduce stress
Escape-proof your home
While not necessarily something to keep your dog calm, loud noises from fireworks are one of the most common reasons why dogs run away. Prevent this from happening to your fur-baby by closing off any escape routes. Keep all doors locked and closed during the show and block off any gaps in your fencing. Use a leash and a harness if your pup needs to go out to potty during the exhibit. Since fireworks often cause dogs to run away, it’s a good idea to get your dog microchipped. A microchip will help you to be notified if your woofer is taken to a clinic or shelter.
How to desensitize your dog to fireworks
If you notice that your companion consistently gets anxious and fearful on the Fourth of July, New Year's Eve, or any other “louder than normal” holiday, it may be time to prepare for the next time loud fireworks occur.
Desensitization is a process that helps to reduce the reaction to a stimulus, such as a loud noise, by gradually exposing them to that stimulus in a safe and protected way. With pets, you can expose them to the scary thing slowly, such as asking a friend to ring the doorbell while you keep your pup in a faraway space, then gradually move them closer to the doorbell chime in the home while giving them treats and play sessions.
When asked how to desensitize a dog to fireworks, dog trainer Caitlin Crittenden suggested the following method:
“Desensitize your pup to the noises of fireworks using a recording starting on a low volume as background noise, while you do something really fun with them to help them tune it out, like fast paced trick training with favorite rewards, a game of fetch or tug of war. Look for high energy, fun activities that your pup will really engage in. Start with the noise really low and watch your pup's body language. It should be low enough volume that your pup still looks relaxed. Practice a little every day. When your pup is completely tuning the noise out, increase the volume very gradually, a little at a time, only to the point where your pup can stay looking relaxed. Over a period of 1-2 months or so, you should increase the volume incrementally during the very fun activity.”
This main technique of desensitization can work wonders for your pup, but don't wait until the fireworks begin! Be sure to start desensitization long before the fireworks show begins to allow your dog time to become accustomed to the noises ahead of the actual event.
More fireworks safety tips for dogs
Sometimes, you and your dog may be caught outside when the fireworks begins or are attending a fireworks display purposefully. Assuming your dog has had desensitization training or isn't very nervous about the loud noises fireworks make, there are still other hazards to watch out for during this celebratory moment.
Keep your dog's ears protected
Your ears may seem to be sensitive, but your dog's hearing is hundreds of times better than yours. Their acute sense of hearing can be more affected by the high-pitched and intense sounds of fireworks. Depending on how close you are to the source of the fireworks, these noises can be deafening to your dog. Be sure to protect their delicate ears by covering them if you are nearby the fireworks with earmuffs, a hat, a hood such as the Happy Hoodie, or a thick piece of fabric, towel or blanket tied around their head and ears like a bandana to help muffle the sounds.
“The sulfur in fireworks may be quite caustic to [a dog’s] mouth and throat.” - Dr. Michele King, DVM
Keep unused and spent fireworks out of your dog’s reach
Whatever goes up, must come down- and remnants of fireworks indeed filter back to earth. If your dog loves to explore, sniff or taste whatever they find, pieces of used fireworks or unused fireworks lying around can cause a toxic poisoning, painful fire or chemical burn in the mouth or digestive system, or even a fatal intestinal obstruction.
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM, says, "Some of the compounds used to give [fireworks] the colors and the bang may cause serious, long-term damage to the kidneys, liver, and bone marrow.”
What are these compounds? Aluminum, barium, copper, lithium, magnesium, and sodium are used for various colors, along with iron and zinc for sparks and smoke, and oxidizers chlorine and potassium nitrate. Not to mention gunpowder and sulphur! You certainly don't want your dog eating those chemicals, or anything that may still be burning or smoldering.
Be sure to keep all fireworks, used or unused, out of your dog's reach. If you are out and about, keep your dog leashed at all times so you can keep him close and away from any fireworks or debris. It would also be helpful to teach your dog commands such as "Drop it" or "Leave it" to further help keep your dog safe from fireworks.
“If you notice any signs of GI upset — vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, or loss of appetite — then see a veterinarian right away.” - Dr. Michele King, DVM
Know what to do if your dog ingests any part of a firework
If your dog does ingest any part of a used or unused firework, they'll need immediate vet attention. While burns may be noticed right away with cries of pain or vomiting, other symptoms of fireworks poisoning won't appear until later, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, lethargy, blood in the stool, or seizures.
You may think your dog is fine if you just see some superficial mouth or lip burns, but the chemicals present in fireworks can cause severe reactions, including kidney failure, and can be fatal if not treated. And as Dr. Michele King, DVM, noted, "There aren't any home remedies for a foreign body.” An intestinal obstruction is a serious medical condition that may require surgical treatment.
If your dog has ingested any amount of used or unused fireworks, visit your vet or call the Pet Poison Helpline immediately. Treatment depends on the severity of the poisoning and the amount of time that has passed since the ingestion, so be sure to seek help right away to increase your dog's chances of recovery.
When to call in the experts
You may have tried everything! Created a dog cave that's hidden and muffled from the noise, bought every treat on the market, invested in anxiety wraps, pheromone products and even spent time trying to desensitize your dog - but your dog is still not making progress! What do you do? For pet parents who have tried everything and still haven’t seen an improvement, dog trainer Caitlin Crittenden offers this advice, “I suggest contacting someone who specializes in behaviors like extreme anxiety and aggression.”
Perhaps your dog's fear is a bit more deeply rooted than just the noise. Maybe they've had a past negative experience around such sounds, or had trauma that's unrelated to fireworks, but still reminds your dog of it. Or maybe your dog has an underlying anxiety problem that is exacerbated with loud noises. Whatever the reason behind it, get a professional trainer or animal behaviorist involved to help your dog learn to live in a more relaxed way.
You can find dog trainers in many places:
- Search for local trainers in your area
- Find a trainer through rescues, shelters, veterinary offices and boarding kennels
- Book a digital dog training session in the comfort of your own home
Make fireworks the last thing on your dog's mind as you celebrate a holiday or any festivity! Invest in a few products, spend some time with your dog on desensitization, and make a plan for when those loud moments happen. Together, you and your pup can be relaxed, happy, and ready for whatever adventure is next!
Got more questions about fireworks and your dog? Chat with a veterinary professional today to find expert answers and more!