While this year’s Fourth of July celebration likely will be a bit more socially distant than in years past, you can be certain that there will still be fireworks—and dogs across the country are bound to still experience stress and anxiety because of them. (Sorry, doggos, but even a global pandemic can’t stop those terrifying pops and booms!)
To help ease your pup’s Fourth of July fears, we spoke with Summit Earhart, head trainer at Furry Friends Adoption, Clinic & Ranch’s Shelter to Service Dog program in Jupiter, Florida, to understand why dogs are afraid of fireworks and how you can help them feel safe, calm and comfortable—without totally putting a damper on your own celebration.
Why are dogs afraid of fireworks?
First, it’s important to understand why dogs are afraid of fireworks. Earhart says the most common reason is because most dogs have never had a positive—or even neutral—interaction with the sounds, sights, smells and feel of a blast.
“Firework blasts are not something a lot of our pooches at home encounter on a regular basis. Therefore, they become startled at the sudden light, loudness, power and smell of gunpowder in the air,” he explains.
How do I know if my dog is scared of fireworks?
Body language is everything. Earhart says to be on the lookout for things like pacing, hiding, panting, tucked tail, excessive drooling and/or abnormal aggression.
But if you’ve never been around your dog when fireworks have been going off, you may not know if they’re afraid of them. Earhart suggests seeking out a professional dog trainer or behaviorist who can do a “test run” with some of the same stimuli, like flashing lights or louder-than-normal noises, that may make your dog nervous—but in a safe and controlled environment. If your pup responds well, great! If not, you’ll know to take proper precautions.
Is it OK to take my dog to a fireworks show?
If your dog has shown that they’re comfortable around crowds (even socially distant ones) and fireworks, go for it! Just be sure that you’re headed to a dog-friendly outdoor space, and that you keep your pup on leash with a well-fitted collar. Earhart also suggests having a back-up plan in case your dog begins to show signs of stress. Be comfortable with missing that grand finale, pack your pooch up quickly and head out.
How to prepare your dog for the Fourth of July
While many dogs are fearful of fireworks, there are steps you can take to make the day more enjoyable and a less stressful experience for both your fur baby and you.
1. Spend time training your dog.
Earhart says one of the best ways to help your dog with a fireworks phobia is through training.
“Be prepared to spend time desensitizing your pup through the weeks leading up to the festivities,” he says. “Playing sounds simulating fireworks over a speaker at a low level, gradually increasing the volume over time [and] rewarding for positive behavior toward the sounds would go a long way.”
2. On the big day, make sure your dog gets some exercise.
A tired pup is a more relaxed pup, so be sure to empty out that tank!
“Doing things like going to the park and playing ball, taking a hike or even wrestling in the living room will make a difference in your dog’s overall stress levels,” Earhart says.
3. Create a quiet, safe space.
Whether you’ll be home or away for the festivities, make sure your dog has a safe place inside your home where they’ll feel comfortable “riding out the storm” of Fourth of July fireworks.
For example, you can make their kennel extra comfy by draping a sheet over it to create a dark den and including plenty of bedding in which they can burrow. Learn how to create a zen space for your dog here.
Also, double check that doors leading to the outside are securely locked, as Earhart says the Fourth of July holds the record for runaway dogs.
4. Consider a supplement to help calm them.
Many people ask their vets, “What can I give my dog for fireworks anxiety?” Earhart says pet parents can use over-the-counter anxiety aides, such as NaturVet Quiet Moments Calming Aid with melatonin or Dr. Lyon's Calming Aid with melatonin.
“Sometimes, the difference between a stressed dog and a calm dog is in the implementation of using supplements,” says Earhart, adding that it’s always best to ask the advice of your vet before starting any supplements. It’s especially important to talk to your vet if your dog is on any medications or has dietary restrictions to ensure they won’t have an allergic reaction or suffer side effects.
5. Try a Thundershirt.
6. Remember, don’t scold your pup!
“Avoiding scolding your dog for behaviors caused by stress or anxiety is very important,” says Earhart. “Often times, these behaviors are uncontrollable for a dog experiencing fear. Scolding them during this already stressful state only adds to intensity of the situation.”
Instead, reward them for positive behavior using training treats, like Blue Buffalo Bits Training Treats, or a good head scratch.
How to host a stay-at-home celebration with your pup
Just because you’re having a quiet Fourth of July at home with your pup doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time! Here are a few ideas for a fun night in with your favorite furry friend.