Fireworks are pretty amazing, but the fun of watching them go off is dampened whenever we see our beloved best friend stressing out over the loud noises and bright flashes.
While we know what the sudden loud noises at night are, there’s no way to help our dogs understand that. However, we can keep them safe while the firework show goes on outside and help them realize that the loud noises won’t hurt them.
Before we start, make sure your dog has a proper ID. A dog tag with up-to-date information and a microchip is essential in case your dog does escape. Dogs often run when they get scared, and while you should make sure your canine friend is safe at home, mistakes can happen. If your dog gets lost, their ID will make sure they’re soon back at home.
If you’re a new dog owner, the following list will give you a few pointers for the next time that your dog freaks out over fireworks.
The 13 Ways to Calm Your Dog During Fireworks
1. Stay Calm
First and foremost, the biggest thing that you can do to keep your dog calm is by acting as you always do. You must let your dog know that nothing bad will happen. Since we can’t explain to them what fireworks are, we have to rely on our emotions, the sound of our voices, and our body language to convey a message that our best friends will understand.
If you feel like you’re getting worked up by the sight of your dog’s fear, take a deep breath and calm down. Dogs are notorious for being sensitive to their favorite human’s emotions. If they sense that you’re afraid or worried, they won’t realize that it’s for their benefit. Instead, they’ll feel like something is wrong and they’ll probably panic more.
Speak in a steady and calm voice. The tone that you use whenever everything’s fine and you’re chatting to your dog about your day is perfect.
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This tip is widely debated. Some dog owners say that reassuring a dog with affection only reinforces the fearful behavior, while others believe that it’s the only way to properly calm the dog. In the end, it depends on how you go about offering this comfort.
If you make a point of treating the comforting session like a reward, then it makes sense for your dog to believe that their behavior is acceptable — in which case, the fireworks are, in fact, terrifying, and they’ll remain inconsolable.
On the other hand, if you pair firm, long strokes down your dog’s back while talking in a steady, even voice, you’ll be showing your four-legged friend that nothing is wrong.
3. Create a Safe Haven
When we feel nervous, we gravitate to somewhere we feel safe. Some people grab their comforter and bury themselves in a blanket cocoon in their bedroom. Dogs enjoy having a safe place too.
This can be as simple as making sure the door to their crate is open and covering it with heavy blankets to block out the outside world. If you don’t have a crate, you can sit with them somewhere away from windows, like the basement or the walk-in closet.
You can even create a den under the kitchen table if you’re pushed for available hiding places. Try to make this den as comforting as possible. Your dog’s favorite toys and blanket will help them settle.
4. Stay Close
Keeping your dog calm means staying close by, especially if your dog doesn’t like being alone or likes to follow you everywhere when they’re feeling scared.
Wherever your doggy’s safe haven is, you should settle nearby. This might mean squashing yourself under the kitchen table or setting up your laptop in the closet, but your presence will go a long way toward easing your dog’s nerves.
Your dog will get to be near their favorite person, and they’ll gain confidence from your calm reaction to the fireworks.
5. Watch a Movie
Putting on a movie is a great way to distract your dog and drown out the noise of the fireworks. Or you can turn on the radio or your favorite Spotify playlist. There are a few specially made music tracks designed to help calm nervous dogs.
Anything that you can play out loud acts as white noise and will help ease your dog’s fears, especially if watching a movie or listening to your favorite songs is something you do all the time. The familiarity will help your dog feel like nothing is wrong.
This one might be easier said than done, especially if your dog is already panicking about the fireworks. Try to distract your dog with their favorite toy or teach them a new trick with a handful of their favorite treats. Be warned, though: Many dogs focus too much on the fireworks to be able to learn anything. Remain patient and don’t force them if they’re unresponsive, as yelling will cause more harm than good.
Car rides can work too, especially if your dog enjoys trips in the backseat. Make doubly sure the windows stay closed, though. The engine, radio, and closed windows will block out most of the noise from the fireworks.
7. Dog Anxiety Vests
If you’ve ever received a hug when you’ve had a bad day, you know how comforting they can be. They’re warm and secure and have a way of fighting off our concerns.
Anxiety vests for dogs work on the same principle. Available in most pet stores, they use an elastic construction to wrap your dog in a mobile hug and use pressure therapy to calm frayed nerves.
One of the best ways to help your dog is by teaching them to ignore the noise of fireworks. By preempting their inevitable freak-out, you can work to prevent said fearfulness from occurring. This isn’t difficult to do, but it does take a great deal of time and patience.
Play a recording of fireworks quietly in the background while your dog is doing something that they enjoy. Make sure the recording isn’t too quiet that it goes unnoticed, but also that it’s not loud enough to scare your best friend.
As your dog gets used to the volume, slowly turn it up while still staying below the level that will scare them. Every time you play the track, make sure to partner it with plenty of positive reinforcement, a meal, or a fun game.
With persistence, your dog will reach the point where fireworks won’t phase them. However, it’s important to remember that desensitization can’t be done all in one sitting. It’ll be more effective if you start long before you’ll need to test whether your efforts have worked.
9. Hire a Trainer or Behavior Expert
Expert advice, especially for a new dog owner, can go a long way toward understanding why your dog panics at fireworks. Professional trainers and behavior experts will help you figure out how best to handle your dog’s fear and prevent it from ruling their life.
It’s easy to reach for your veterinarian’s number and request sedatives to keep your dog calm. But they should only be a last resort when nothing else has helped and your dog is still working themselves into a panic every time that a firework goes off. It’s always important to talk with your veterinarian first because using the wrong medication can have disastrous consequences.
Your vet will be able to suggest remedies or prescribe sedatives and tell you how to safely administer them. They might even have a suggestion that you haven’t tried yet.
11. Early Walks
Generally, people start letting off fireworks in the early evening until late at night. Most cities have ordinances in place to prevent fireworks in the early morning hours, if they allow them at all.
On holidays when people traditionally release fireworks — the Fourth of July, for example — take your dog for a walk a little earlier than usual. Not only will they get their daily exercise in, but you’ll also be less likely to be caught off guard by the fireworks starting when you’re mid-route.
Just in case your neighbors start letting fireworks off earlier than expected, make sure you have a failsafe in place. Keep your dog leashed, a phone handy, and a friend on call who won’t mind driving to collect you and your nervy hound. This will reduce the risk of you losing your dog if they bolt while you try to get them home.
12. Stay Indoors
If your neighbors are the sort to party all day on holidays, fireworks included, it’s best to keep your dog safe indoors. While this may mean skipping their favorite walk, keeping the doors and windows shut will block out most of the sounds and keep your dog safe inside.
While they might resort to trembling under the coffee table, you can at least be assured that they won’t force their way through your back fence and stumble onto the highway.
This goes for trips into the yard too. If your dog desperately needs a potty break, leash them and keep the trip as fast as possible. The leash will help you keep your dog close even if they do have a freak-out.
Keep the door open too. With luck, if your dog does panic, they’ll run back inside. Keep a firm hold on the leash just in case.
13. Stay Away From Firework Events
Unfortunately, dog ownership often means missing out on that get-together with your friends for drinks and a fireworks show. If you can’t find a dog sitter and your pooch is terrified of fireworks, taking them along with you will end in disaster. They’ll be in an unfamiliar place and terrified, which I not a good mix. More than anything else, you’ll help your dog more by staying at home.
Keeping your dog calm during fireworks is often easier said than done, especially when your pooch is timid at the best of times. By using the tips on this list, you can help ease their nerves.
Remember to stay close to your nervous dog and comfort them with your calm, reassuring presence.
Featured Image Credit: Aleksey Boyko, Shutterstock