Every summer, fireworks-related anxiety sends countless dogs into a tailspin of terror. The loud, sudden, and unrecognizable noises activate the canine sympathetic nervous system (i.e., your dog’s fight, flight, or freeze response) and prompt panicked, sometimes dangerous or life-threatening, actions. If a dog’s anxious response is left unaddressed, an affected dog may generalize their fear and become sensitive to other sounds, such as thunder, heavy equipment, or everyday items, such as appliances. If pyrotechnics ignite your pup’s chain reaction of stress and worry, make a plan to extinguish their fireworks-related anxiety for good.
Although anxiety-related behavior changes in response to fireworks are undeniable in some dogs, others may show only mild or subtle stress signs, and you can easily underestimate or completely overlook their fear. Unfortunately, if you fail to recognize and address your dog’s fireworks anxiety, their condition can worsen over time, until the affected pup experiences an emotional and physical reaction similar to a panic attack a human might suffer. Fireworks anxiety does not go away on its own and can result in self-harming behaviors, so talk to your veterinarian about your pup’s noise-induced stress.
Fireworks anxiety can cause behavior changes. Your dog’s fireworks anxiety behavior signs may include:
Fireworks anxiety can cause physical signs. However, because physical signs can indicate underlying health issues, you should always view your dog’s behavior in the context of their surroundings. For example, consider whether your pup’s drooling preceded a distant firework’s boom. Physical signs of fireworks anxiety may include:
While you can’t take away your neighbor’s firecrackers or tell the local parks department to cancel their annual show, you can reduce your dog’s exposure to frightening fireworks and help them cope with the sudden booms. Before an upcoming fireworks show, work with your dog on anxiety-reducing strategies. By doing so, you can determine whether your pup is comfortable with each piece of the plan, and help ensure that an unexpected routine change will not alarm them.
In addition, by helping your dog learn to gradually cope with their anxiety well in advance of any fireworks, you minimize the risk of being caught off-guard if your neighbors start celebrating early. In the weeks leading up to an anticipated firework event, incorporate these strategies.
No matter how well-socialized or well-adjusted your pup, they should never be outdoors during a fireworks display. Dogs have extremely sensitive hearing, and the sudden pops and booms may startle your pooch, causing them to slip their collar or jump a fence and run away.
Plan to tire out your dog by exercising them during the midafternoon, so they’re ready to rest when darkness falls and the fireworks begin. In addition, before the fireworks begin booming, ensure all your doors, windows, and gates are securely closed to prevent your terrified pooch from escaping in a panic.
Frightened dogs naturally try to flee from a perceived threat, so give your panicked pup a safe place to hide by creating a cozy quiet interior space where they can rest during fireworks and other upsetting noise events. Make the space as inviting as possible by providing must-have items such as a bed, water, and familiar toys. Draw the curtains or blinds to block potentially upsetting light flashes. Additional strategies that help make your pup’s space feel safe and cozy include:
Muffle upsetting outdoor sounds by playing white or brown noise, or classical music in your pup’s safe space. According to a Journal of Veterinary Behavior study, classical music can reduce dogs’ stress and nervousness. Look for curated playlists on your favorite streaming services, and get ready to tune into relaxation and tune out fireworks anxiety.
If you must be outdoors with your dog before, during, or after a fireworks event, stay in a fenced area or yard, ensure your dog’s collar is snug, and keep your pooch on a nonretractable leash. For the greatest peace of mind, ensure your dog is microchipped and that you have registered their chip number with the microchip manufacturer’s database. If you and your dog are separated, microchipping increases the chances that you and your pooch can be reunited.
Pay attention to your dog’s behavior and body language at all times and be prepared to return indoors if they appear nervous or overwhelmed. In addition, keep a close eye on your dog to ensure they don’t ingest fireworks debris.
Although anxiety-reducing strategies can be helpful in the short term and protect your dog from injury, these methods do not address their underlying fear. Because fireworks anxiety will never improve and only worsen with time, systematic training is often necessary to help an affected dog learn new responses to previously troubling sounds. Noise aversion training is a gradual process that requires dedication and patience. Training steps include:
If your dog’s fireworks anxiety is severe, your veterinarian may refer you to a board-certified veterinary behaviorist or a dog trainer. These professionals specialize in behavior modification to provide your pooch with personalized training and guidance.
Noise-related anxiety affects approximately one-third of U.S. pets. However, don’t let this statistic dishearten you. Noise anxiety’s prevalence means that an ever-increasing number of products and techniques geared toward helping your pup find relief are always being introduced. Some of our favorite anxiety-reducing options for dogs include:
Your dog may not understand the hoopla behind noisy fireworks, but they can appreciate your attempts to keep them safe and calm. As you work through your dog’s fireworks anxiety, remember to be patient and understanding. Acknowledge your pooch’s progress, no matter how small, and allow their wins to become large victories. By respecting your dog’s emotions and encouraging their confidence, you’ll enjoy a deeper pet-owner bond. With time, your dog’s only response to “the rocket’s red glare” will be their tail wagging in air.
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15 December 2022
4 MINS READ
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