Holiday fireworks and other fanfare are often frightful experiences for dogs. The loud noises can hurt their sensitive ears.
Frightened dogs have different reactions: some tremble at their owners’ feet, others retreat to a hiding place, some try to run off (traveling for miles), and others display bizarre behavior. Low-frequency, percussive noises such as fireworks and summer thunderstorms trigger wild fear in about 20% of dogs. Under such circumstances, ordinarily well-behaved pets may become aggressive, destructive and/or unpredictable.
Help Ease Your Dog’s Fears
If you don’t have time to prepare for the fireworks, or if desensitization hasn’t ended your dog’s fear of fireworks completely, there are things you can do to help ease his fears. These things may help with dogs who have a mild to moderate fear of fireworks.
- Don’t change your behavior. Many people feel compelled to baby their dogs when the dog is showing signs of fear. We pet them more than usual, cuddle them, and talk to them in soft voices. Rather than easing a dog’s fears, however, this often reinforces the dog’s fearful behaviors.
- Try not to react to the fireworks yourself. If you jump or tense up when you hear fireworks because you are anticipating your dog’s fear, you may make his fear worse. Your body language can tell a dog that there is a reason to be afraid.
- Drown out the sound of the fireworks. Try to turn up the radio or television and keep your windows closed during the fireworks. If the weather permits, a fan or air conditioner (if your dog isn’t afraid of those sounds) can help, too.
- Don’t push your dog past his comfort zone. Allow him to hide if he feels more comfortable in his crate or under a bed. Don’t pull him out or try to force him closer to the fireworks in an attempt to get him used to the sounds. This may result in an increase in fear, and a frightened dog may become aggressive if pushed past his comfort level.
Here are some precautions you can take to help your pets:
- Don’t take pets to events with fireworks.
- If fireworks are being set off nearby, or if you’re having guests over for a holiday celebration, find a quiet, secure place to keep your pets. Darkening the room can help. Crating is also a good idea — place the crate in the quietest part of the home. Make sure you put safe chew toys in the crate to occupy and distract the pet during the event. You can close the curtains and turn up the radio, CD player or TV to drown out noise.
- Do not leave pets outside, even in a fenced yard, anytime when fireworks might be set off in the distance.
- Rather than cuddle a frightened dog, try to distract the dog from the disturbing noises with physical activity such as playing ball.
- Remember that scolding or coddling a scared dog will not help. Scolding will scare and confuse the animal, and coddling serves to reinforce fearful behaviors. Instead, assume your pack leader role and act confident and unbothered by the noise and activity outside.
- If the sounds and lights of fireworks frighten your dog, here’s an innovative technique, make an “anxiety wrap” using an adult or children’s T-shirt. Put the dog’s front legs through the arm holes, then knot the hem over the dog’s back. This technique is related to the massage and Tellington Touch therapy approaches. Wrapping fabric around an animal can give the pet a feeling of greater security.
- Vets can prescribe tranquilizers for frightened dogs. Also, some people find that non-prescription remedies such as Rescue Remedy or Serene-um calm their dogs.
- If you’re going out of town for the holidays, entrust the care and feeding of pets to an adult friend or a boarding kennel.