Photo: Aleksey Boyko (Shutterstock)
Every July 4th, when fireworks explode in the night sky, millions of dogs run for cover or bark and howl in confusion at the sounds that attack their delicate dog ears. Fireworks are terrifying and confusing for dogs who don’t know that the cacophony outside is celebrating “freedom” and is not threatening their hearth or home.
Since your dog is just a helpless bystander here, do him a great service by preparing him for the trauma of the fireworks season. There are many methods you can consider to manage your stress levels – from equip them with a weighted “thunder shirt” to put them on anti-anxiety medication– but the simplest one could be some form of exposure therapy.
In the days (and weeks if you have the time) before Fourth, make it a point to make a loud, explosive movie when it gets dark. As your dog gets used to hearing cinematic explosions (or some other similarly bombastic soundtrack, such as YouTube video of a fireworks show) before chaos ensues, hopefully they will get through the vacation without mistaking the noise for the collapse of civilization.
Why are dogs so afraid of fireworks?
Your dog is not a hypochondriac. Just as their sense of smell is not like yours, their hearing is far superior – and more sensitive. Dogs can hear decibels so high that humans cannot hear them, and sounds that are so quiet that humans cannot hear them. It makes sense that super loud noises with no visible source would scare them as a result – but that doesn’t fully explain why dogs are so triggered by a fireworks explosion.
A variety of them are more likely to help make your dog shiver when the festivities begin. “It can be the smell; it can be the noise and the flashes of light, ”veterinarian Judy Morgan said the American Kenel Club. Some dogs may have traumatic associations with loud noises in general. Smithsonian magazine details How a dog might learn to associate the loud noises of a construction crew with abandonment:
For example, if a construction worker hammered on the wall in a neighboring apartment while a puppy was home alone, that puppy might associate beating with abandonment – without its owner knowing about it.
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Still, dogs are generally afraid of the tumult of fireworks, regardless of their particular life experience. One Study from 2019 found 52% of the surveyed dog owners stated that their pet was affected by fireworks noise, with “almost a third of the dogs being given the highest possible severity”.
The range of behaviors for dogs that panic during fireworks is wide, but they are all bad. Jennifer Green, Veterinary Director, Camden University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Australia, said Phys.Org What behaviors a dog owner might expect from a frightened puppy on July 4th or even during a severe thunderstorm:
These include panting, up and down, moaning, drooling, hiding and destroying things around the house. They are often so scared that they try to escape. Many dogs go missing in storms or fireworks.
Taking steps to prepare your pup for the trauma to come can go a long way in calming his or her nerves.
So play a loud movie or white noise before the show
You can get your dog used to the racquet outside by making a smaller racquet in your house. Indeed, one option is to find a noisy movie – perhaps one with lots of special effects and explosions – that plays regularly before the celebratory explosives detonate. The aim is to desensitize your dog to the noise outside and reassure him that he has nothing to fear – or to confuse him so that he cannot distinguish between the outside noise and what is coming from your television. You can also combine the loud soundtrack with one of your dog’s favorite treats to create a pleasant association.
Jenn Stanley, a canine behavioral consultant, explained how to do this with the American Kennel Club:
The volume should be low enough for your dog to hear it, but not showing any signs of stress such as wheezing, walking back and forth, leaving the area, or trying to hide. We call this keeping the dog “under the threshold” and it enables learning. If the dog is overwhelmed, it will try to escape the situation and will not be nearly as capable of learning that it is not a threat.
Remember, the goal is to normalize the sound of fireworks to the point where your dog will find the pops and bangs harmless. Which will pay off as the fireworks season usually goes well beyond July 4th.