Fear of Fireworks

Fireworks are an integral part of any 4th of July celebration. To most Americans, watching the fireworks on Independence Day is a lifelong tradition. This celebration evokes the feelings of pride and joy in our country and freedoms that we are all thankful for. However, while you are oohing and aahing over the extravagant display, your dog may be absolutely terrified.

Many dogs are afraid of fireworks. One of the reasons that dogs are so afraid of fireworks is how loud they sound. Hearing is probably the most sensitive sense in the dog. They can hear sounds in a much greater range of frequencies than humans, and their ears are also more sensitive. A sound that is barely noticeable to you may be unbelievably loud to your dog. Another reason your dog is so afraid is that he is hearing these loud sounds and has absolutely no idea why they are occurring! I think it would be pretty terrifying to hear these explosions and not know why!

So what do many dogs do when they hear these sounds? How do they react? Many become destructive. They may try to dig, chew, urinate or defecate. Some dogs will shake, freeze, or just cower and hide. When you find yourself in the situation where your dog is terrified by these sounds, there are some ways in which you can try to reduce his anxiety.

Many dogs may feel comforted by “white noise,” which will help block out the sounds of the fireworks. Examples include turning on the TV, radio, dishwasher, or a loud fan. You can also try distracting your dog. As soon as the fireworks start, begin running around the house and throwing all of his favorite toys and treats around. This may provide enough of a distraction to make him forget his fear. If you don’t want to distract him, just ignore him. Do not give into the temptation to soothe and pet your dog while he is afraid. This will only reinforce the idea that he should be afraid of the sounds.

Some dogs like to be enclosed in a safe, den-like environment. If your dog has a crate or a kennel, he may feel better if you put him in there with a blanket, and maybe even put a blanket over the crate. However, do not lock your dog in his crate because he may panic and hurt himself trying to get out. Other ideas for dens include under a desk or table, or in the back of a closet (just be sure there are no valuable clothes hanging there).

Some dogs become so panicked during fireworks that they will break through windows to get out of the house. If your dog is really out of control and you fear that he may hurt himself, talk to your veterinarian about the possibility of prescribing tranquilizers for you to give your dog during the fireworks. Never give human tranquilizers to your dog; they can be harmful and will probably have no effect.

Don’t take your dog with you to the fireworks or leave him unattended in your backyard (even if it is fenced). If he gets scared he may try to run away or choke himself trying to escape. Many dogs get out at this time of year, and you don’t want yours to be one of them. Be sure that your dog has his tags and collar on so that if he does escape, you can be easily reunited. If you are worried about your dog’s safety, speak to your veterinarian about prescription medication. In some cases, your dog may be fine if you just leave him home alone in the house. However, if you choose this option, be sure that he is in a safe environment where he cannot hurt himself. Leaving your dog home is a much better solution than bringing him along so you can “keep an eye on him.” Don’t do it! Enjoy the holiday!