Desensitizing Your Dog to Fireworks
Sure, fireworks are exciting, they’re beautiful to look at, and they make us happy. But to a lot of dogs, they’re anything but fun.
In fact, to them, they can be loud, scary, and an absolute nightmare.
Many dogs experience serious anxiety when hearing fireworks, especially if they don’t tolerate loud noises.
If this is the case for your best friend, don’t worry; we’re here to help!
Both Sarah and I have lived with dogs that were sensitive to fireworks, and we had to work through their fear little by little until they didn’t faze them anymore.
How did we do it?
We answer this question in today’s episode of Dog Sense!
So, if you want to learn the best way to desensitize your dog friend to fireworks, how you can use music and white noise to help your pup, and why you should take your desensitization practice outside, this episode is for you!
Is Your Dog Afraid of Fireworks?
This topic is one that is near and dear to me. I’ve had dogs that were noise-sensitive before, and one of them was absolutely terrified of fireworks.
This can be pretty difficult to deal with, especially during the summer months. I mean, have you noticed how people start setting off fireworks as soon as it gets a bit warm?
And it’s not like it’s a holiday — think July 4th or New Year's Eve — and you can prepare your dog for fireworks. No, sometimes, it’s just out of the blue, and that’s why desensitizing your dog to fireworks can be a year-long job.
Loud noises are so stressful that more dogs end up running away on the Fourth of July than any other time of the year.
So, how do you avoid that? Well, lucky for you, we’re here to help!
Fireworks Vs. Thunderstorms
First, let’s get this out of the way: Desensitizing your dog to fireworks is much much easier than desensitizing him to thunderstorms.
This is because thunderstorms are not just loud, but they also trigger changes in the barometric pressure, which is a signal to a dog that ‘the noise is coming’. That’s why you can start to see signs of stress even before a storm happens in some thunder-phobic dogs.
But with fireworks, you don’t have to worry about that barometric pressure drop. All you’ll have to work on is desensitizing your dog to the sound.
Here’s how you can do it!
How to Desensitize Your Best Friend to Fireworks
The good news with this particular fear is that it responds well to desensitization. You can start by playing firework sounds on a very low volume during walks, during feeding times, even during playtime.
The key is to teach your dog that hearing the sounds of fireworks comes with super fun activities. Every time he hears it, it’ll be a rewarding experience instead of a terrifying one.
Doing this again and again will help your best friend get accustomed to the sound of fireworks. We want your dog to start thinking this is just a natural part of the day.
Now, just remember: Don’t increase the volume too quickly, because that could backfire on you. A true desensitization program is a slow and gradual process. Make sure your dog is 100% comfortable with the volume you’re using before increasing it.
Take It Outside
You should be taking the desensitization protocol with you everywhere, even on walks. So, make sure to play those firework sounds when you’re outside with your dog.
Why is it so important?
Because you can’t always know when someone will be setting fireworks off. It can happen on the beach or in the middle of the street during your walk. And that’s something your dog should be prepared for.
Use Soothing Sounds
When you’re home and you hear fireworks going off, make sure to play calming music or even just white noise!
This sort of background noise can help deter how jarring the fireworks’ sound is. You don’t have to play any special kind of music. You can practice with your dog and see what kind works for him. For some dogs, it’s Mozart, for other, groovier dogs, it might be Prince or Madonna!
Don’t Forget the Treats
Never underestimate the power of treats, especially during desensitization practice. So, make sure to always have a container of high-value treats on you. And I specifically mean the special food your dog is crazy about, not the treats that you use for your usual training sessions.
It could be bacon, it could be leftover steak (if your dog is fancy), chicken, or anything else of really high value.
You can also give your dog a food puzzle toy that will help keep him occupied for longer while fireworks are going off. You don’t want to be managing your dog all the time when it’s happening.
What if You Have to Go Out?
If you have to go out, first, make sure your dog’s tags and microchip are up to date and reflect your current contact information in case he escapes. Make sure his collar is properly fitted so he doesn’t slip out of it if he gets frightened during a walk!
Something to avoid is leaving your super anxious dog alone when you know there’s going to be fireworks. This is why my advice is to hire a pet sitter or a friend to stay with your pup. You need to make sure someone is watching your dog, because you never know what could happen.
Something else you could do before leaving is take a training-oriented walk to exercise him before you leave. This will increase the possibility of your dog falling asleep with his pet-sitter, meaning he won’t have to go through the traumatic experience of hearing fireworks.
Some Tips That Worked for Us
Here are a few suggestions that have worked for us and our students. Just keep in mind that every dog is different, and make sure to consult your vet before trying anything:
- Use dog-appeasing pheromones.
- Try anxiety wraps or ThunderShirts.
- Use calming essential oils (but make sure they’re safe for dogs first) or herbal anti-stress supplements.
- If your dog is very VERY noise-sensitive, talk to your vet, because they might have something they can prescribe him.
- Finally, remember to be patient! Desensitizing your dog to fireworks doesn’t happen overnight.
Is your dog afraid of fireworks? How do you deal with his fear? Let us know in the comments below!