With July 4th just around the corner, there’s no doubt that it is fireworks season. This time of year can often be fraught for dogs and their owners. But with these tips and factoids, you can help your dog have a safe, fear-free summer.
Why are dogs afraid of fireworks?
The short answer? Fireworks are loud. Dogs have a much stronger sense of hearing than humans. Here are some quick numbers from the AKC:
- The average adult cannot hear high-pitched sounds above 20,000 Hertz (Hz). Dogs can hear sounds from 47,000 to 65,000 Hz.
- Dogs can hear normal-pitched sounds (Between 3,000 and 12,000 Hz) that are -5 to -15 decibels (dB). A sound that is 0 dB is just barely audible to people.
- Dogs’ hearing is so precise that they can distinguish the musical note C from a note that’s only one-eighth of the distance between C and C sharp.
Fireworks can produce between 150 and 175 dB in sound. Any noise above 120 dB has the potential to immediately damage human ears. So it’s no wonder why dogs try to escape the sound (even if the show is happening miles away).
The Fourth of July always a high-risk day for dogs to run away from home, and this year may be particularly bad. 2020 was a banner year for fireworks sales, and some predict that demand might be just as high in 2021, as many people come out of quarantine and want to celebrate with their friends. If you have a young dog that may be going through their first July Fourth, you’ll want to take extra precautions.
We asked Margaret MacEwen, dog trainer and founder of Super Fine K9, for tips on how you can keep your dog safe and secure when the fireworks start.
You may not be able to protect your dog from any fireworks this summer, but there are many precautions you can take to help your pup avoid them as much as possible. First of all, be considerate of your canine companion and don’t set off fireworks at your home. The same goes for taking your dog to a fireworks show with your family. If it’s in your control, keep your dog as far away from fireworks as you can.
Make sure your dog’s collar or harness is slip-proof if you can’t avoid fireworks easily. If your dog gets loose during fireworks, they’ll keep running to escape the sound and could end up getting lost far away from your neighborhood.
Another option for getting your dog away from the sound is boarding them at a pet hotel where they’ll be indoors and safe. Try calling ahead to ask how soundproof their building is and how the dogs they’ve boarded in the past have reacted to fireworks.
You can also ask a friend to watch your dog for the night if you know they live in an area where there won’t be any fireworks.
What to do before, during, and after fireworks
Here are some changes you should work into your routine on the day of fireworks:
- Take your evening walk early so you won’t be caught outside with your dog when the fireworks start going off.
- Stay outside with your dog even if your yard has a fence in case they try to escape by jumping over it or digging under.
- Put down pee pads or block access to certain parts of the house in case of accidents (either from being scared or not wanting to go outside).
- Don’t worry if your dog is too nervous to eat dinner. It’s okay if they miss one meal. Trying to get them to eat will likely stress them more.
- Stay up a little later after the fireworks end to keep an eye on your dog while they settle down. They may need some time, so just be patient.
Extra steps to calm your dog during fireworks
As much as you should try to avoid exposing your dog to fireworks, it may just not be possible. When there are active fireworks in your area, try these tricks to help your pup cope:
Step 1: Find a spot in the house where your dog feels secure
You can place them in their crate and throw a cover over it or set them up in a closet. Some dogs may even like the bathtub if they’re large enough to get in on their own. Set up some bedding so they’ll be comfortable while they’re held up. It’s helpful to sit next to your dog to calm them down.
Step 2: Create background noise
Background noise can help calm your dog down and drown out the sound of fireworks. You can create noise with objects you have around the house by turning the volume up on the TV, cranking up a fan or AC unit, or playing music. Or you can invest in a white noise machine. Try setting up the noise near your dog’s security spot for extra security.
Step 3: Try an anxiety vest
There are weighted compression vests your dog can wear that will help them feel secure. These vests simulate the feeling of a person holding your dog. There are multiple brands to choose from, so you might want to ask your vet for a recommendation. If you do get an anxiety vest for your dog, test it out with them a few days before July 4. Putting it on them right before the fireworks start will make your dog think that the two are connected and create a negative association with the vest. Bonus: These vests help if your dog is afraid of thunderstorms too!
Step 4: Consider medication for stress and anxiety
If your dog has a strong negative reaction to fireworks, giving them medication for their nerves might be the right option. Unchecked stress could lead to health issues. Be sure to ask your vet for recommendations if you think medication will help your dog.
While you’re calming your dog down, stay calm yourself. If you act differently or talk to them in a way that acknowledges their fear, it will reinforce their anxious feelings. Instead, use positive reinforcement when they’re calm.
What if your dog isn’t afraid of fireworks?
If your dog seems to cope well with fireworks, that’s great! All dogs are different — what’s frightening for one pup might be totally fine for another. Reinforce this behavior by giving them treats once the fireworks start going off. This will be especially helpful if your dog is still a puppy. Much like conditioning them to enjoy baths while they’re young, rewarding your puppy for being calm during fireworks will prevent a lot of anxiety down the line.
Don’t be surprised if your dog ends up being startled by fireworks later in life, though. Dogs go in fear cycles. If they catch you off guard this year, follow the tips above.