Firework anxiety in dogs can manifest in different ways.
Your dog may shake, pant, drool, try to hide, or may actually try to “fight” the unseen enemy by running around, barking, and taking out her internalized rage on her toys. Symptoms can range from mildly distressing to downright harmful. Some dogs claw at their crates or at doors until their paws are bloody. Some escape yards, leading to the 5th of July being one of the busiest days of the year for animal shelters.
What To Do: A Few Weeks Before The Fireworks
You may be able to counter-condition and desensitize your dog to have a positive association with fireworks. However, this takes time, so if you’ve only got a few days until the holiday (or less), you probably won’t be able to do this effectively.
Counter-conditioning means changing your dog’s emotional reaction to the stimulus (the fireworks), and desensitization means exposing your dog to the stimulus at a low level, then gradually increasing the level of exposure as she learns to tolerate it.
You can use a video or an app to play the sound of fireworks at a very low volume, just loud enough for your dog to hear. Praise your dog and give her a treat after each boom, no matter what she does. She does not have to do anything to “earn” these treats, your goal is to create a positive association. With practice, she should look at you expectantly after each boom.
Never rush counter-conditioning. You want to turn up the volume so gradually, your dog is never actually distressed from the simulated stimulus.
The sound of fireworks playing through a speaker might not mimic real fireworks enough to prepare your dog for the holiday. So, you can expect to combine this training with other methods of soothing her anxiety.
Tools To Help Your Dog
- Natural and pharmaceutical remedies. Ask your vet about over-the-counter Benadryl or melatonin. You might not need to visit your vet, they may be able help you with dosing over the phone. They may prescribe stronger drugs for dogs with severe issues.
- Thundershirt. A Thundershirt is a vest that creates a comforting pressure around your dog’s body, and works for 8 out of 10 dogs.
- Lavender oil. You can drop lavender essential oil on your dog’s bedding, the soothing effect also seems to work on dogs. Use a very small amount to avoid overwhelming your dog’s acute sense of smell. Lavender has been found to be effective for helping dogs relax.
- Puzzle toys. In dogs with mild anxiety, a distracting activity can be helpful. Dogs with severe anxiety will not be able to focus through the panic.
- Calming treats. You can find many products that claim to help soothe anxiety: Ewegurt, and treats made with chamomile, CBD oil, and many other ingredients. Before trying something new, look for scientific research and anecdotal evidence of the product’s effectiveness in customer reviews. I haven’t tried any of these products yet, but when I do, I’ll post reviews – I’m not sure just how effective they can be.
What To Do: Days Before The Fireworks
Prepare a safe, quiet place for your dog to retreat during the fireworks. This will be your dog’s crate if, and only if, she normally goes there to seek refuge. You don’t want to lock your dog in a crate against her will when she is already in a state of panic.
You can sound-proof at least one room of your house to keep the booms from coming in. Close the windows, and cushion them with heavy curtains, or even hang up thick rugs to help muffle the noise. If you’ll be using a crate, you can drape a blanket over it to absorb even more noise before it can reach your dog’s ears.
It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to completely soundproof your dog’s safe room, especially because a dog’s sense of hearing is so acute. But curtains, rugs and other soft items will help a lot.
What To Do: The Morning Of The Fireworks
With any luck, you won’t have neighbors that set off fireworks days before and after the holiday, which will make it a bit more difficult for you to prepare your dog. Ideally, your dog will be tired by the time the show starts and will fall asleep instead of panic. To make this more likely, you can go for a long walk or hike during the day.
Exercise can actually make a dog more ramped-up, so it’s better to get the physical exercise done early. When you get home from that long walk, you can offer your dog mental stimulation (a long lasting chew bone, a puzzle toy, training games, maybe all of the above!) This would be similar to reading a book before bed – tiring out your dog mentally as well as physically.
What To Do: During The Fireworks
Your dog should not be left home alone during the fireworks, which may mean that you will have to skip out on plans or negotiate with family members to make sure someone will be home to comfort her.
There is no evidence that comforting your dog will make your issues worse. At one time, dog trainers and behaviorists commonly told their clients to avoid comforting their dogs, but this is no longer the case. You can scratch your dog’s favorite spots, or even learn TTouch calming techniques to relieve your dog’s stress.
Offer treats as the fireworks go off. If your dog is very anxious, she’ll be too overstimulated to take treats, but you can offer them anyway, and perhaps leave them on the floor for her to enjoy when she’s calm enough to eat.
You can drown out the sound of the booms with a soundtrack your dog finds comforting. Classical music has a calming effect on dogs. You can also sing to your dog – there’s no scientific evidence that this works, but my dogs seem to really like it when I sing to them. To your dog, the sound of your voice is one of the most wonderful sounds in the world. If you hate singing, try humming!