Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.
Methods That Help a Dog Afraid of Fireworks
- Keep your dog in a quiet room during the fireworks. It is never a good idea to leave your dog alone out in the yard, shove her in a crate (no matter how comforting someone told you it is for her), or put her in a room alone while you go to watch the fireworks.
- Stay home: This is one of the most important alternatives. Research has proven that dogs that are alone feel higher levels of anxiety than those that can depend on their owners.
- Play calming music to distract your dog. I have included a link to a Youtube video below that has helped some dogs with firework sensitivity. This alternative method can help some dogs when the neighborhood comes alive with noise. Grab your laptop, take your dog into a back room and, if she will let you, put cotton balls in her ears. Play the video kind of loud (it is over 3 hours) and sit with her for the evening.
- Aromatherapy may also be useful. If you take about 10 drops of lavender essential oil and add it to a small spray bottle of water it will help some stressed-out dogs.
- An herbal remedy might be the better alternative since you cannot keep your dog sedated or on other medications all of the time. The problem with herbal remedies is that they take a lot longer to show effect, so if you are concerned about the end of June/early July, you really should start no later than May. If your dog will drink chamomile tea you can try that, and if not, you can soak her treats or kibble in the tea. The other herb I have heard about that works as a calming agent is echinacea. This herb is sold as an immune stimulant, so if you want to keep her on it year-round, there are other potential benefits.
- Try a thundershirt. This is a product sold that wraps the dog tightly and sometimes has a calming effect. It has worked in some cases, but the majority of dogs will still need counterconditioning.
- Prescriptions: If classical counterconditioning techniques are not successful with your dog even after several months, talk to your veterinarian and ask for a prescription. In 2016, a new drug, Sileo, was approved to help dogs with this condition. It makes dogs less fearful by blocking norepinephrine. It is sold as a gel, and the family puts it between the dog´s cheek and gum so that it is absorbed slowly. Sileo has been tested on several hundred dogs, and about 75% of owners think it has good to excellent results. Dogs do not seem as upset during the fireworks. It lasts a couple of hours, so one or two doses might take you through the whole evening. Sedatives like acepromazine, which have always been used in the past, just make dogs quiet but do not reduce anxiety.
- Counterconditioning: This is not as easy as just giving your dog drugs or playing music but it is the best method in my opinion, and the rest of the article will detail how you can get your dog used to fireworks. If you would like to learn how to train your dog to adapt to this noise keep reading.
Will Counterconditioning Make My Dog Feel Safe Around Fireworks?
Conditioning (or more properly called classical counter-conditioning by animal behaviorists) is a technique that is used with animals to get them used to an unpleasant stimulus. You can use a situation to which the dog normally acts negatively, like loud sounds, and you condition her so that she has a pleasant feeling about what used to bother her.
I suggest using food for conditioning because almost all dogs love treats; if your dog is not food-responsive, you might want to give her a favorite toy or a lot of praise along with a special food. The food should be something the dog thinks of as very special, but be sure it is not going to provoke any health problems. Play around with the food and toys and see what works before starting this program.
This technique has been used successfully for many years. There are alternatives since dogs are individuals and will react differently. Even if your dog does perform less than optimally, using this technique will calm her and make her feel safe. It will be time well spent.
How to Condition Your Dog Around Fireworks
- Prepare some special food. If using baked chicken breasts (a good lean meat), cut the treats up into pieces about the size of your little fingernail. If you prefer to buy a treat, get something that is really small and tasty.
- Have your partner step into the back yard with a single firecracker. Give your dog a treat. Set off the single firecracker. Give her a treat no matter how she responds. (Do not be upset if your dog is too scared to even eat the treat. Just leave it on the ground for her.)
- Continue this process every day, lighting no more than a single firecracker each day. Every time the firecracker goes off, give her a special treat. With time the dog will learn that the sound of the firecracker is a good thing, associated with getting a special treat.
- When the second week arrives, you should set off a firecracker, give her a treat, set off another firecracker, give her another treat, and then stop for the day. Two firecrackers = two treats, which is still not an overwhelming noise and hopefully not enough to set off her phobias. Try this for about a month, and then if she is doing better, set off a third firecracker.
- (If she freaks out at three firecrackers, go back to one and start all over with the treats. This condition took a long time to develop into a phobia and in some dogs, it takes a long time to get over.)
After another month you can reduce the frequency, but you need to remember that the problem has not gone away, it is just under control for the moment. Every week or so, light a few firecrackers and give her treats after each “bang” so that the conditioning will stay current.
The Long-Term Benefits of Training
Training your dog with counterconditioning will have long term benefits. When the firecracker season approaches next year, she will be better prepared to handle the noise. This is a problem that will get worse as her life continues, and a problem that you will need to continue treating for the rest of the time you are together.
Help her with this. A little time spent now may keep her from running through a glass door later, and she will repay you for your kindness in every way she can!
Dog Training Articles That Might Help
- How to Train Your Dog to Stop Digging
Dogs love to dig. This article will tell you the reasons dogs dig, and give you a few tips to decrease your dogs' digging.
- How to Train a Dog Not to Bark
The main cause of excessive barking in dogs is boredom. Boredom is caused by lack of a job, lack of a diversion, and most of all lack of exercise. Since you probably can´t throw your dog into the back of your truck and go to work, the next best thing
- Dog Training Tips : Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety in dogs is not an easy problem to deal with, but it can often be managed with a few modifications. Learn what they are and what you can do to help your dog.
- "Good (and Bad) Ways to Help a Dog Afraid of Fireworks"
- Aromatherapy: "Aromatherapy for travel-induced excitement in dogs," Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Wells, 2006 Sep 15;229(6):964-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16978115
- Staying home: Dreschel N.A. "The effects of fear and anxiety on health and lifespan in pet dogs," Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 125 (3-4) 157-162
- Sileo: "Zoetis Announces Launch of SILEO® for Treatment of Noise Aversion in Dogs"
© 2012 Dr Mark
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 05, 2014:
Thanks Helen I wish it worked for all dogs, but, like you point out, some dogs are just so frightened that nothing works. The kids here in Brasil make a lot of noise during New Years, so my dogs all hate that holiday too.
Good luck if you decide to try it with a friend´s help.
Wasteless Project from Worldwide on July 05, 2014:
Thanks for this useful hub - voted up! Unluckily our dog is so scared of firecrackers that a single one exploding far away in the neighbourhood usually makes her paralized for a good while... during New Years it is nearly impossible to take her out of the house and even when she is, she doesn't relieve herself until she can't hold it any longer... :( But maybe it could be worth a try with a friend setting them off a very long distance away and then gradually (day by day) coming closer... luckily she is a foodie ;)
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 03, 2014:
Thanks, janderson. Your Maltese probably is like my dogs--they hate New Years. Of course, when Brasil wins at football it is just as bad around here.
Dr. John Anderson from Australia on Planet Water on July 03, 2014:
Very interesting information
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 18, 2012:
Thanks for the input. I like the idea of moving a little further from the house and decreasing the noise.
DoItForHer on July 18, 2012:
I would like to add two suggestions:
1) I would light the firecracker farther away than the back yard. I would start 600 to 900 (2 or 3 blocks) away then slowly move closer. Take baby steps! Slower is faster. You have all year to do this. Also those little poppers you throw are available all year 'round; firecrackers have limited availability in many areas. Slapping two 2X4's could work, too. Be creative.
2) My dog is not food motivated, either. She loves to play, tho, so that is what I use.
I had a German Shepherd that was afraid of guns until he learned that meant I was going squirrel hunting. I don't mean to sound macabre, but a few dead squirrels is what it took for him to live comfortably around loud stuff.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 17, 2012:
Thanks for coming by Kevin. Little Chihuahuas don't always care about food so I hope this method works for you.
Thanks for your vote Mary. Not my method though, as it has been in use in one way or another since the time of Pavlov, the Russian who was studying salivation in dogs and found out that he could make them salivate just ringing the dinner bell.
The "link to this page" is now down at the bottom of this page. You can insert your tracker coding into it also so Hubpages can find out where the traffic is coming from.
Let me know how things are going for you.
Mary Hyatt from Florida on July 17, 2012:
Hi DrMark1961, My Hub about my Miniature Schnzauzer being so afraid of fireworks seems to be the one that inspired you to write this Hub. As you can tell when you read the comments on my Hub, there are many people who have dogs with the same problem and concern.
Your method certainly makes common sense to me, and I will definitely try this.
May I link this Hub into mine? I voted this Hub UP Etc.etc. and will share so other can read this good advice.
Ooops, doesn't seem to have a share button on here.....sorry.
Kevin J Timothy from Tampa Bay, FL on July 17, 2012:
Really insightful suggestions here. I think that it'll work but I'll be back to report results. I have a Chihuahua that hates Independence Day!
5 Ways to Calm Your Dog During Fireworks
For parents of dogs that fear loud, unknown noises, a booming crack or the startling burst of fireworks in the distance can mean hours of heartache and helplessness trying to comfort our terrified four-legged family member.
If your dog becomes nervous, fearful, or panicked during loud events like thunderstorms or fireworks, there are a few things you can do to help him remain calm.
1. Shower him with love and positive attention. A common misconception exists that says giving attention to your dog when he’s afraid will only reinforce that fear. This is absolutely false! In fact, the opposite is true. Your dog depends on you for guidance and direction.
Ignoring your dog or forcing him to deal with his fear alone will not teach him anything. Never, ever punish a dog for being afraid. This will only serve to make him even more fearful.
So, if you know that the loud noise of a thunderstorm or fireworks celebration makes your pooch anxious, providing lots of love and affection in a calm, happy manner will show him that you’re there and will keep him safe. Pet, cuddle, and massage your dog in an attempt to keep him calm and content. Eventually, he should begin to associate the scary noises with something good – positive attention and love – and will react less fearfully.
2. Play some music. Aside from helping to mask the noise of thunder or fireworks, certain types of music have been scientifically proven to calm nervous or fearful dogs. Through a Dog’s Ear is a series of music CDs created especially for dogs dealing with a variety of anxieties. (Works great for dogs with separation anxiety, too!)
3. Try a Thundershirt or Anxiety Wrap. While they may look like just a tight-fitting shirt for your dog, anxiety wraps or Thundershirts, when properly fitted, are designed to apply gentle, even pressure to certain pressure points in the body that instantly calm your dog. Pet parents dealing with all sorts of anxieties in their dogs swear by the wraps for their ability to instantly provide comfort to a frightened pup. (In a pinch, try this DIY anxiety wrap using a scarf or ace banadage)
4. Divert your dog’s attention. Pull out some of her favorite toys and have a fun play session with your pooch. An entertaining play time will help keep your dog distracted until the source of her anxiety is over. Plus, she’ll begin to associate the scary sounds with fun play time and, over time, will become less fearful.
5. Provide him a safe haven. If your pooch runs to a particular area in your house each time the thunder cracks, make that spot a comfy place for him. Put his blanket and favorite toy there, provide a favorite long-lasting chew or treat, provide “white noise” like soft music or a television, and allow him to stay in that spot until he finally feels okay coming out. Many dogs find great comfort inside of a crate or kennel during times of stress.
When your dog is in a fearful state, never, ever, force him to do something he isn’t comfortable with. For example, giving your dog a bath or trimming his nails would best be suited for another time. Coupling something he doesn’t like along with the thunderstorm or fireworks will strengthen that fear.
Experiment with using more than one of these techniques in combination with another. No single method works for every dog and the ultimate goal is for your unique pup to feel calm and comfortable.
- Desensitization. There are times when it’s possible to alleviate your dog’s fears by playing thunderstorm sounds when it’s not storming outside. Find a CD or download thunderstorm or fireworks sound clips to use. Play at a low volume at first while comforting your dog with pleasant stimuli such as pettings and treats. Do this for only a few minutes each day over several weeks, slowly increasing the volume until you can play the sounds at their natural noise level while your dog remains content and calm. The gradual exposure to the source of his fear, combined with pleasant stimuli like petting or playing, will eventually reduce Fido’s anxiety about it. Fortunately, this technique works very well for many pets.
- Medication and Natural Therapies. A dog owner is never thrilled with the necessity to use drugs in relieving their pooch’s fears. But, remember for those extreme cases, medicating your dog to keep him calm can be better for his health and well-being than not treating his condition. Talk to your vet about anxiety medications for your dog. Now for milder cases, you can try lavender oil or flower extracts to help appease your pooch. Many dogs also respond well to special pheromone collars , sprays, or diffusers designed to calm anxiety. And others respond very well to CBD oil or treats.
- Animal Behaviorist. Even if you find relief using one or more of the methods above, an animal behaviorist may be able to provide additional insight into your fearful dog’s behavior and how to best deal with it. Your veterinarian, an animal behaviorist, even a dog trainer may have specialized training in managing this kind of canine behavior.
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How to Calm a Dog During Thunderstorms
Last Updated: October 8, 2020 References Approved
This article was co-authored by Beverly Ulbrich. Beverly Ulbrich is a Dog Behaviorist and Trainer and the Founder of The Pooch Coach, a private dog training business based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a Certified CGC (Canine Good Citizen) Evaluator by the American Kennel Club and has served on the Board of Directors for the American Humane Association and Rocket Dog Rescue. She has been voted the best private dog trainer in the San Francisco Bay Area 4 times by SF Chronicle and by Bay Woof, and she has won 4 "Top Dog Blog" awards. She has also been featured on TV as a dog behavior expert. Beverly has over 17 years of dog behavior training experience and specializes in dog aggression and anxiety training. She has a Master of Business Administration from Santa Clara University and a BS from Rutgers University.
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Many dogs are terrified of thunderstorms. The loud noises, static electricity, and barometric pressure changes cause fear, anxiety, and panic. In this state, dogs can injure themselves and damage property. Learn how to manage your dog's fear during this frightening storm, and improve its response to the next one.