Firework displays may be fun for human participants but the loud noises and flashing lights of holiday fireworks spell absolute terror for many dogs–so much so that many dogs go missing after hearing fireworks. This year, predictions are that more people will be doing fireworks on their own rather than attending New Year’s Eve events–so make sure you and your dog are prepared for the sound of fireworks even if your neighborhood is usually quiet.
If you’re wondering how to calm a dog during fireworks, we’ve got help for you, starting before the fireworks ever begin.
Our dog Irie was always afraid of fireworks (as well as thunder, gunshots, and other loud sounds). We were able to manage her fears with a variety of techniques, patience, and products.
Before the Fireworks Begin
Desensitizing Your Dog to Fireworks
If you have a dog who is frightened of fireworks–or a young dog who hasn’t yet experienced fireworks–desensitizing your dog to the sound is a process that, like all training, takes some time. Your goal is for your dog to equate the sound of fireworks with FUN so that it will minimize fear.
Here’s a video that features fireworks sounds. (I used similar videos when introducing our dog Barli to all kinds of sounds–construction, ambulances, fire trucks, etc.)
You’ll want to play the video at a time when you can interact with your dog, giving him super yummy treats that he doesn’t normally get. (LIVER works great!)
Turn on the video and give your dog a treat, talking in a happy, upbeat voice. Give your dog the treats one by one in tiny pieces (smaller than a pea).
If your dog appears stressed, turn down the volume or stop altogether and practice another time. Little by little, he’ll learn to associate the fireworks with treats and positive feelings.
Talk to Your Veterinarian
If your dog has shown severe signs of stress–panting, drooling, bolting through the house–have a talk with your veterinarian about calming prescriptions.
Your dog may not need to rely on calming aids forever but helping your dog get through fireworks fears calmly can not only keep him safer during fireworks but also help you work through his fireworks fears with desensitization in future months.
Check Your Dog’s ID Tag
Any time there’s a chance of fireworks (which includes days before and after the actual holiday), our dogs will be indoors and wearing their collars and tags. Many dogs bolt out of the door at the first sound of fireworks so it’s definitely time to keep those tags on your dog!
Check Out Calming Products
We used a compression garment on our dog Irie before the fireworks began. We use a Thundershirt (see below). You want to put the Thundershirt on BEFORE the fireworks begin so that you are preventing fear rather than trying to walk your dog back from a fearful state.
If you don’t have a swaddling garment, you can improvise with an Ace elastic bandage. Wrap the torso like a hug (not tightly). A t-shirt, dog sweater or other garment can also be used to give that feeling of swaddling.
Consider purchasing calming products before the holiday:
We’ve reviewed this calming jacket several times here on DogTipper; you can check our review.
The Anxiety Wrap is designed to use both acupressure and gentle swaddling pressure to calm your fearful dog using thin fabric of special interest to anyone concerned about summer heat.
Adaptil, D.A.P (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) Collar This collar contains pheromones much like those produced by a nursing mother to calm her pups. The collar is worn continuously unless the dog is being shampooed.
On the Day of the Fireworks
Walk Early then Get Inside
Take your dog walk EARLY before there’s any chance of a stray firework (a long walk to tire your dog is a good idea)–and then get your dog INSIDE.
Drown Out the Sounds
Turn on the television louder than usual and keep it on throughout the night.
Black Out the Light
If you live that’s illuminated by fireworks, make sure your dog is either in a room with no windows or in one with blackout curtains. The flash of fireworks (just like lightning) can be frightening to some dogs.
Distract Your Dog
If your dog is not too nervous to take a treat, distract your dog with yummy treats and a long-lasting chew (we use bully sticks as well as stuffed KONG toys).
Offer a Small, Safe Place
If your dog is crate trained, a crate can be a reassuring, calm place to weather the storm of fireworks.
If your dog is not crate trained, a small, windowless closet can also be reassuring. Dogs love hiding beneath the hanging clothes; your scent will be reassuring to them.
Control Frantic Running
If your dog is frantically running in the house, consider putting a leash on your dog and walking from one end of the house to the other. Have stairs? Walk up and down with your dog on leash.
Not only does this help rid your dog of nervous energy but dogs cannot multitask so this puts their mind on walking.
Accommodate Potty Needs Indoors
If your dog is nervous, you don’t want to allow him outdoors (and our dogs have refused to go outside to potty during fireworks). We put pee pads in front of the front door.
Yes, you’ll read advice not to coddle dogs frightened by fireworks–but cuddling is not coddling. Cuddling is one friend reassuring another during a trying time.
With our Irie, I tried to encourage her to cuddle on the couch. This often worked; she was a big girl but she liked to squeeze behind me and lie between my back and the back of the couch for a feeling of security.
What if you won’t be home during fireworks?
Bark Busters has a list of helpful tips for helping your dog during fireworks when you won’t be home:
If You’ll Be Gone
- If you are going to a fireworks display, leave your dog at home where he will be the most safe and comfortable.
- If you go to a holiday event, never leave your dog in the car. A partially opened window does not supply sufficient fresh air, and it creates an opportunity for your pet to be stolen.
- Consider hiring a pet sitter to stay with your dog while you are away from home.
Preparing Your Home
- Don’t leave your dog outside. If you cannot bring him inside, cover his dog house with a blanket to protect him from the bursts of bright lights and loud bangs. A dog’s sense of hearing is acute–about four times more sensitive than humans’.
- Create a special den-like area in your home where your dog feels safe. A properly introduced crate or kennel can be a calming refuge for him.
- Some dogs become destructive when frightened. If you don’t use a crate, remove any items in the room which your dog could destroy or which could hurt him if he chewed them.
- Keep windows and curtains closed to reduce noise and bright flashes.
- Turn on a TV or radio at normal volume to distract your dog from loud noises and help him to relax.
- If possible, stay with your pet during the majority of the fireworks. A dog often reacts more intensely to loud sounds and flashes of lights when you are not with him.
Making Sure Your Dog Doesn’t Run Away
- Always keep proper identification securely fastened to your dog’s collar in case he gets out. Talk to your veterinarian about implanting a universal microchip in your pet, and make sure that your veterinary clinic and animal shelter have your correct contact information in their database.
- Keep your dog away from the front and back doors. Your dog may be under significant stress, which could result in unnecessary injury to others or cause him to dart out the door.
Remember, shelters see a huge number of lost dogs in the days following fireworks displays. Make this a safe holiday for you and your four-legged family members!