How to Manage Your Dog's Fear of Fireworks
Make summer holidays easy on your pup and you with a little preparation5 minute read
Most dogs have some fear of fireworks and it's not just the loudness that makes them scary. It's the vibrations and even the bright flashes that trigger the fear emotion. This is why some dogs are perfectly okay with loud dance music and absolutely terrified of fireworks.
If your neighborhood is like mine, then the fireworks have already started. Whether this will be your pup's first experience with fireworks or you're looking for ideas on how to make this year's 4th (or any summer holiday) go just a little smoother, the best time to start thinking about this is now.
You most certainly don't want to wait until your street is lit up like...like the 4th of July to figure out how you're going to take your quivering pup who's hiding under the bed out for a potty break, so check out Harper's favorite tips for managing the fireworks fear.
How to manage your dog's fear of fireworks
Introduce sound masking
One way to deal with fireworks is to drown out the sounds they make with another sound.
We put this tip at the top because it's best to experiment with sound masking ahead of time. How does your dog react to white noise machines? Classical music? What about electronic dance music? Lower pitched sounds - think lots of bass - can better mask firework booms so if your pup is okay with loud rock music then go with that.
Find what your dog likes then play that on repeat while the fireworks are happening.
Just be sure to play the music at various calm points well in advance. Don't wait until the fireworks start to play the music for the first time or else your pup might anticipate scary noises every time she hears Beethoven's Symphony No. 9.
Make a safe place for your dog
Maybe your pup already has one. It could be her crate, a place under the bed, a nook in the back of your closet, or maybe it's on the couch next to you. Wherever it is make sure she can get to it when she needs it.
Also, you might consider enhancing her safe space with a fluffy blanket or a familiar toy. If your pup chooses her crate, you might also consider covering it with a blanket. Most dogs feel safer when they feel fully hidden.
Prepare long lasting treats in advance
Long lasting toys like peanut butter filled Kongs are great distractions. Also, they're a good test for how afraid your pup is. If she won't take her favorite treat, then you know her fear levels are pretty high. At the same time, if she is willing to take it then you know she feels safe.
Have a plan for potty breaks
This is crucial. You might've been fully prepared inside the house only to suddenly realize your 5 month old pup desperately needs a potty break and you have no choice but to take her outside, the place she's most scared to be.
The best way to avoid that scenario is to do your potty break early, before the sun sets.
And when you do take your pup outside, we recommend he be on a leash, even if you have a fenced in back yard. If you decide to let them roam free in your backyard, make sure there is no way for him to get out. Consider what extreme measures your pup might take if an unexpected firework is set off. Is it possible your pup can jump over the fence? Is there a slight gap between the fence in your house that your dog would be willing to injure himself to push through?
Cuddle and soothe your dog if they want it
Finally, cuddling, massaging, and speaking soothingly to your pup is perfectly okay and even encouraged if it's something your pup likes, but don't be disappointed if your pup wants to be left alone during this scary time.
Should you just condition your dog to be okay with fireworks?
We're optimists when it comes to training our dogs. We think dogs can learn anything if we just put in the effort. That said, we don't personally invest in conditioning our dogs to be comfortable around fireworks for a few reasons:
It's hard to recreate the experience
Unfortunately, you can't just play fireworks "noises" you found on Youtube and expect to get an accurate reaction from your pup. Without the vibrations and the flashes the experience is just too different to trigger the fear response.
This means, the only way to get your pup comfortable with fireworks is to actually expose them to real fireworks or something very much like them. The effort it would take to set off fireworks of varying noise levels and distances as you slowly acclimate your pup is just more than we're willing to give for this once a year issue.
It's just so much easier to manage around the fear
As you saw above, it takes so little effort to help your dog through the fear that it's hard to justify spending inordinate amounts of time conditioning them ahead of time.
That said, if your pup has a particularly severe reaction to fireworks, then for their sake it may be worth conditioning them to loud and surprising noises. As we like to frequently point out, every dog is different and you know them best so trust your instincts.
There's no downside to helping them through their fears
If you're versed in the philosophy of positive reinforcement you might be wondering if accommodating a pup who's showing signs of fear, either by petting them, giving them special privileges like access to your bed, or even special treats, will actually reinforce that fear and encourage them to be even more fearful in the future. The short answer to that is no. The slightly less short answer is you can reinforce behaviors. You can not reinforce emotions. Being there for your dog during a fearful time can only help them.
If you have any other questions about managing your dog's fear of fireworks, we'd love to help! Feel free to contact us