How to help a dog that’s scared of fireworks



Many dogs are afraid of fireworks.

It’s such a common problem, yet dog owners are often at a loss about how to help.

Since the Fourth of July is coming up here in the United States, I wanted to reach out to a couple of dog owners who have found ways to help their dogs overcome or at least deal with their fear of fireworks.

I hope this post will be a place for others to share their questions and ideas on what has worked and what hasn’t, so please share your tips!

How to help a dog that’s scared of fireworks

How to help a dog that's scared of fireworks

Rodrigo the border collie mix

Last year was the first Fourth of July that her dog Rodrigo wasn’t a “bundle of nerves,” according to Kim Gauthier, who maintains the blog Keep the Tail Wagging. Read more about how she helps her dogs through fireworks here.

“I think what helps Rodrigo the most is a heavy day of activity,” she said. “The difference was a long morning walk, many play sessions and fewer naps during the day.”

“I think what helps Rodrigo the most is a heavy day of activity.”

She said she will also use a product called Canine Calm (affiliate link) for Rodrigo because it was effective during the New Year’s Eve fireworks.

Canine Calm uses pure, essential oils to help dogs relax, according to the company’s web site.

Gauthier is the owner of four dogs, and this will be the first Fourth of July for her two pups, Zoey and Scout.

“I’m going to play it by ear with them,” she said. “I believe they’ll be fine with a day of exercise and bully sticks.”

She plans to stay calm and act like it’s just another day, making a point not to coddle her dogs if they are afraid.

Jakey the cattle dog mix

Terri Jay has not been able to decrease the fear of her 75-pound dog named Jakey.

“I have just developed ways of helping him cope,” she said.

She uses products such as Rescue Remedy (affiliate link) or Benadryl to “knock him out” and said these really help. She also makes a point to stay calm so her dog doesn’t pick up on her emotions.

“Getting upset because your dog is upset just makes it worse,” she said.

Since Jay works as a pet psychic, she said she is able to communicate with her dog to let him know the fireworks won’t hurt him.

For other dog owners dealing with the same issue, she recommends pre planning medications for the dog through a veterinarian and making sure the dog has a safe, secure place in the house. She has also seen success with a Thundershirt.

German shepherds Sammy Jo and Lucia

Lucia the red and black German shepherd is scared of fireworksHow to help a dog that's scared of fireworksLeslie Munroe describes her two German shepherds as “chickenhawks” because they are afraid of fireworks, thunder and lightning.

Munroe also tried Canine Calm for her dogs and said it worked wonderfully. Her dogs laid down and “looked downright bored.”

“After five to six years of being pawed, climbed on and having them sit on me in their angst, what a relief,” she said. “I always have a bottle on hand now.”

“After five to six years of being pawed, climbed on and having them sit on me … what a relief.”

She has also tried ignoring her dogs, babying them, getting their crates out for them to get into, making a spot in the closet for them to hide in and letting them go into the basement.

“The Canine Calm is the only thing that works,” she said. “I just had to get it out Sunday night for a big storm.”

What are some things that have helped your dog deal with fireworks?

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  1. jan on June 23, 2014

    I have never been around a small dog who was afraid of fireworks, thunder, etc. but I have known many large dogs who were terrified. This isn’t a scientific sampling, but I wonder why.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on June 23, 2014

      Yep, I’ve noticed that too!

      • PowPow on July 1, 2014

        It is probably an intelligence thing. It makes sense to be afraid of fireworks: they are like bombs going off in the air, from a location that dogs can’t sense or feel, or pinpoint. Very unsettling. Small dogs might not be as bright … sorry to say. Large dogs also know that they are large dogs. So my Rottweiler, for example, runs for cover in a dog house. She senses that something could hit her from above. But she also knows that she can’t run under the house or in a crevice, like a small dog can.

  2. Elizabeth on June 23, 2014

    This will be our first experience with just one dog since CV and I have been together. Before we got Belle, D.O.G. wasn’t afraid of loud bangs, fireworks, shotguns, etc. Now… He’s showing some anxiety. Most of it is go find papa. Which is a good thing. So we will probably go ahead and have a big day of activity, one of the only times I will go to a dog park, and probably turn the TV up. The funny thing is that TV fireworks and bangs don’t bug him. Go figure!

    The other thing I try to do is make sure that potty breaks are leashed and that we try not to go out too late, or go out during a lull. That also seems to help.

  3. Emma on June 23, 2014

    Bailie and I don’t mind noises of any kind, but with age, Katie has developed fears of thunder, fireworks, gun shots, etc. We just make sure she is secure and comfy in the inside bathroom upstairs and then she is good.

  4. Colby on June 23, 2014

    Linus is not a big fan of fireworks and loud noises. We actually have fireworks most of the summer since we’re so close to Disneyland and Anaheim Stadium. Turning up the TV, putting on his thundershirt, and giving him access to his crate seems to help for the most part. I’ve never tried Rescue Remedy or Canine Calm, but maybe some time in the future if his anxiety gets any worse.

  5. Rebekah on June 24, 2014

    I consider myself lucky that none of my three dogs fear fireworks or thunder storms.

  6. nancyspoint on June 24, 2014

    Fireworks and thunderstorms are both issues all summer long for our golden. I just ordered the Canine Calm. I think it might be worth a try. Thanks for the tips! We need ‘em!

  7. Zach N on June 24, 2014

    Like every behaviour you can work though the fear of fireworks with shaping. I wanted to desensitized my dog to gunfire in the event that I wanted to take him shooting utilizing successive approximation. If you’re attempting to work your dog though their fear of fireworks on the 4th of July you’ve waited too long. Start well before the most scary day of the year.
    1. Introduce your dog to a marker system.
    2. Find what currency is most valuable to your dog. In my case it was salmon. The world could be burning down around him and he’d hardly noticed if I had freshly cooked salmon in front of his nose. Yes, I’m lucky that my dog has such a high food drive but I spent time building that.
    3. Break the task into small steps and make it easy for your dog to succeed.

    I brought someone to help me. I had them take the most quiet gun they owned (a small 22 rifle) quite a ways off from my dog and I. I told him to sit, marked and gave him some salmon. Ohhh buddy. He was FOCUSED now. Then on my queue my friend fired the rifle, just one shot. It startled my dog (I didn’t allow him to bolt) but I used the marker and quickly stuffed some salmon in his face. He took it but was really focused on my friend now. I waited until he calmed down and we did it again. It was a bit easier this time. We repeated this until it wasn’t that big of a deal. Then we moved my friend just a bit closer. It startled my dog and we worked though it just as we had before. These small steps, always setting up your dog for success is where you begin to re-condition your dog. So get your neighbor kid to grab some black-cats, have him take one and walk down the block and light if off on your signal. By the end of the day your dog will be WANTING you to light fireworks because it’s the only way they will get that awesome reward.

    If your dog is still having trouble there are two things you can and should do. 1. Find a better currency (maybe warm hotdog will do better), or make it worth more by only feeding your dog during these exercises. 2. Move the noise further away so it’s less scary.

    I’ve done this with other dogs that come through our facility for different reasons, fireworks, thunder, lighting, construction workers on a roof… The principal is always the same.

    Remember our dogs live in a different world than us. They hear a wider range of frequencies and at a higher intensity than we do. Personally I think you should use what you have available to you to make your dog comfortable. With that said I think thundershirts and the like are a crutch and shouldn’t be a long term solution. Help recondition your dog to a more calm and confident mental state.

    Thanks for another good article Lindsay!
    -Zach

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on June 24, 2014

      I think this is all very good advice. I did something similar to my dog when we wanted to get him used to guns as well. It wasn’t too difficult because he generally doesn’t have a fear of loud noises (other than the normal response of being startled). For him, the reward was a tennis ball :) I imagine this would be much more challenging if the dog already has a fear, but I know your advice is very similar to what many, many trainers would recommend.

      Thanks for the great tips!

  8. Kimberly Gauthier on June 24, 2014

    Great post! Loved reading the experiences of others.

    I’m happy to say that Scout and Zoey will be fine during the fireworks. The other night, there was a display in our town (I didn’t know about it) and it was huge and loud. Scout just barked and Zoey took her cue from Rodrigo and Sydney. We got the puppies settled down in less than 10 minutes and they slept until morning (missing the last of the show).

  9. Paul W on June 29, 2014

    My mini Schnoodle is terrified of thunder, fireworks and other loud noises. Nothing has helped so far. We’ve tried the Thunder shirt and prescribed Valium. My other two dogs bark at the fireworks but aren’t afraid.

  10. PowPow on July 1, 2014

    Honestly my best advice is to just leave the dog in the yard. It seems like anything you do to “soothe” or calm your dog (outside of passive stuff like a thundershirt or pheromones) actually ENCOURAGES him or her to react negatively to fireworks. When s/he is freaking out, our instincts are to sooth him or her as we would a baby. But then by doing this, you are actually REWARDING his or her freaky behavior. You are telling the dog, in Canine language, that his reaction is appropriate. Cuddles, pats, or any type of coddling behavior is for a dog, a sign that s/he is pleasing you right now.

    It sounds cruel but “baptism by fire” (NOT “fire-works”) has worked for me. We live in Los Angeles, population density like 1 million / square mile (LOL) and every single damn night there are pops, bangs, fizzles going off, up until the fourth. It starts like mid-June. My Rottweiler bitch stays outside, and the other dogs are with her, and after seeing and hearing these God-forsaken noises, every night, and seeing that NOTHING HAPPENS her fear is going away.

    She is somewhat skittish by temperament, and if I went out there to comfort her, she might even get over her fear on her own but keep acting afraid, just to get attention.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on July 1, 2014

      The “rewarding fear” is a tough one for me. I do try not to “coddle” my dog when he’s afraid. Instead, I try to reward calm behavior from him. For example, if he’s afraid of a loud noise and lying on his bed calmly, I will pet him. If he’s pacing around, I will ignore that.

      I wrote a post on this topic, and people don’t seem to have a clear answer. Thoughts?

      http://www.thatmutt.com/2013/08/21/can-you-reward-a-dogs-fear/

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