As the Fourth of July approaches, you’re likely looking forward to barbecues and fireworks … but while your four-legged friend probably can’t wait to get his paws on some of your leftover hamburger, he might not be too thrilled about those loud, bright flashes of color in the sky. For many dogs, the sounds, lights and vibrations caused by fireworks cause strong reactions, from barking and howling to trembling and hiding under furniture.
Why Dogs Hate Fireworks
“Both dogs and cats are notoriously adverse to sharp, loud sounds … and that’s why noises like fireworks — and thunder — can cause them to become extremely anxious,” explains Dr. Stephen Katz, veterinarian and founder of the Bronx Veterinary Center in New York. “When they hear these types of sounds, you may see your dog start pacing, barking, drooling, hiding under the bed, defecating or urinating around the house … and some dogs may even become destructive and start doing things like chewing on walls.”
According to Scott R. Sheaffer, a certified canine behavior consultant and owner of USA Dog Behavior, LLC in Texas, many dogs actually suffer from a fireworks phobia. “It’s not just about anxiety, it’s that they truly have an irrational fear of the noise that fireworks produce. We humans know what it is and that it isn’t going to hurt them, but our dogs unfortunately don’t understand that this is a celebratory holiday and that the noise is just part of the fun,” he explains. “In fact, when your dog starts barking at fireworks, what they’re actually doing is becoming aggressive in an attempt to scare them away.”
Keeping Your Dog Calm During Fireworks
So, what should you do if Fido is fearful of fireworks (or thunderstorms)? For starters, Dr. Katz advises keeping your pooch close to you. For some dogs, holding them and petting them is enough to help prevent some of the anxious behavior. But for dogs who have a more severe reaction, there are also other alternatives, including vests that your dog can wear that apply gentle, constant pressure to help the calm the anxiety that’s associated with fireworks or thunderstorms (or even car travel or visits to the vet).
If none of these approaches works, there are also different medications that will essentially work as a tranquilizer, including Benadryl or even CBD, that can be offered to your dog to calm him down when you know there’s going to be fireworks or a bad storm is approaching, he notes.
Scott also notes that, for some dogs, keeping them indoors and away from the sound of fireworks whenever possible is the only approach that’s going to work. “If your dog is truly phobic about fireworks, exposing him to fireworks in the hopes that he’ll somehow become desensitized to it isn’t going to work … in fact, it tends to make things worse,” he advises. “In that case, dogs are going to start looking for predictive cues that fireworks are coming, so every time you’re out in a large crowd in the evening or he hears a band start playing, your dog might think it’s the Fourth of July and start to panic that fireworks are about to start.”
To that end, another thing pet parents should never do is attempt to correct their dog’s behavior with punishment such as shock or prong collars. “On top of being afraid of the sound of fireworks, your dog is going to become even more anxious about the physical discomfort that’s now going along with it … so even if you get them to temporarily stop barking, what you’re actually doing is making the root of the problem — the fear — get that much worse.”