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My Dog Has Extreme Fear of Fireworks and Thunder

In this post, four dog owners share their tips for helping with a dog’s fear of fireworks or thunder.

What do you do if nothing seems to work?

I asked four dog owners how they manage their dogs’ fears, because sometimes you just can’t make their fears go away.

I hope this post is helpful to others who have extremely fearful dogs. Please share this post if it will help a dog you know.

*Get this post emailed to you as a pdf. Read it later. Click Here.

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How to manage your dog’s extreme fear of fireworks and thunder?

Dog's fear of fireworks

Example #1: Tonya Wilhelm and her dog’s fear of thunder

Tonya Wilhelm said her dog Theo (who passed away in 2009) was the “most extreme” case of thunder phobia she has seen.

If she happened to be home with Theo during a thunderstorm, she said his eyes would become dilated and he’d pant, pace, dig, try to knock things over and would not settle down.

“If I was gone, he ate the carpet, walls, knocked over everything in sight, urinated and defecated,” she said.

Wilhelm could not find anything to fix her dog’s behavior.

She tried working on a desensitization training program and tried giving him medications. She also moved in with her mom so Theo would be alone less often.

Theo the golden retriever dog's fear of fireworks and thunder

During thunderstorms, Wilhelm would:

  • put Theo in a tight-fitting T-shirt
  • put gun earmuffs over his ears
  • turned on the TV
  • set up a box fan
  • snuggled up right on top of him!

If Theo had to be left alone, she put him in his crate with a piece of Plexiglas attached to the inside of the crate’s door. This kept him from damaging his nails when clawing at the door.

Today, Wilhelm is a professional dog trainer with Global Dog Trainer and she has found a couple of ideas that help some of her clients’ dogs with thunderstorm phobias.

She suggests the following:

Wilhelm said it’s important to give your dog any medication or calming aids before your dog is feeling stressed. This gives the medication sufficient time to enter the dog’s body.

See our post: Medications for dogs during fireworks.

Finally, she also uses “food therapy” by starting her clients’ dogs on a “cooling diet that is high in blood tonics.” This often includes rabbit, sardines, oysters, parsley, carrots and spinach, she said.

*Get this post emailed to you as a pdf. Read it later. Click Here.


Example #2: Elaina Cowdell and her dog’s fear of fireworks

Elaina Cowdell’s dog Lilly is scared of thunder, fireworks and gunshots. Lilly will try to get away from what’s scaring her and will destroy blinds or go through screens in the process.

Lilly the dog's fear of fireworks

“I tried everything under the sun,” Cowdell said. “Thunder coats, calming sprays and collars, calming and desensitizing CDs, I bought and tried it all.”

What finally helped was to find a vet willing to work with Cowdell on finding the right medication to manage Lilly’s anxiety.

Cowdell also found a trainer who specializes in fearful dogs and uses desensitization training.

“For example, when a thunderstorm is happening, I will get high-value treats and throw them in the air and tell her to ‘find it’ every time thunder happens,” she said.

“This does two things. It helps her to start thinking that thunder means yummy treats and it’s a good thing, and it helps distract her by finding all of the treats.”

See our post: What to do if your dog is scared of thunderstorms

When Cowdell can’t be home with Lilly and there’s potential for thunderstorms or fireworks, she said she leaves her dog at a daycare. If she’s home with Lilly and it gets really bad, Cowdell will give Lilly a vet-approved extra dose of medication to help calm her while she holds her.

“We go downstairs, turn the radio or TV up loud and I do everything I can to minimize the sound and make her feel safe.”


Example #3: Sandy Cumberland and her dog Pequena’s fear of fireworks

Dog's fear of fireworks


Sandy Cumberland said her dog Pequena is a rescue dog from a village in Mexico.

“I believe that the locals may have taken pot shots at her and the other feral dogs to keep them from garbage and from the fish as the fisherman hauled their nets onto the beach,” she said.

“A single percussive sound – a car backfiring, even the sound of a stapler – will put her into a nervous state. You can imagine what fireworks do to her!”

During fireworks, Cumberland said her dog runs to the closet and buries herself as deeply as she can.

“Her whole body shakes. She pants furiously, with the whites of her eyes showing all around.”

In attempts to help Pequena, Cumberland said she has tried various natural remedies for her dog.

“None had any impact at all.”

Her vet suggested a prescription tranquilizer but because Pequena is sensitive to medications Cumberland didn’t want to go that route.

So, if she knows there will be fireworks, Cumberland stays home with Pequena or arranges for someone to be there.

“I sit near the closet and talk to her in a soothing voice. If I can reach her, I will keep my hand on her, stroking her as I speak,” she said. “I don’t attempt to hold her, even though as a human our temptation is to cuddle someone who is afraid, as being confined will just increase the anxiety.”

When the noise is over, she makes sure to give her dog water and then Pequena sleeps for a long time but never has any long-term effects.

“Like humans who suffer from anxiety, between episodes her life is very normal.”

For a more detailed guide on general dog anxiety, see my post: How to help my anxious dog


Example #4: Kirsten Stuart and her dog Abbie

Dog's fear of fireworks


Kirsten Stuart has an 8-year-old boxer/pitbull mix named Abbie who has always had a fear of thunder and fireworks.

“She seems to hear the most distant sound of thunder even before I do,” Stuart said. “She gets this look of sheer terror on her face and crawls on my lap.”

She said Abbie shakes and pants, and fireworks are even scarier for her.

“With the sound of each firework, she flinches and the fear in her eyes is just sad, all you see is sheer terror.”

Stuart said she has tried everything from oils and natural herbs to a Thundershirt to taking Abbie to the basement to play.

Dog Thundershirt

“I have resigned to the fact that she is and will be deathly afraid of fireworks, and as her dog mom I need to find the best and safest solution to try to calm her.”

In this case, Stuart has found that medication is the only solution to keep Abbie calm.

“The dosage has been carefully decided upon by our vet and she gets just enough to calm her through fireworks displays,” Stuart said.

“Now that I have found a solution for both thunderstorms and fireworks, it is much calmer at the house during these events.”

Her advice to other dog owners it to remember every dog is different.

“Find what works for them and is comfortable for the both of you.”

*Get this post emailed to you as a pdf. Read it later. Click Here.

What ideas to the rest of you have?

Let me know in the comments!

Our Favorite Products to Help a Dog’s Fear of Fireworks:

  1. Thundershirt:
    The Thundershirt is worth a try in addition to other training methods and potentially anti-anxiety medication. You can get it for 30% off on Chewy.com when you sign up for your first autoship program.
  2. Dog Appeasing Pheromones:
    Adaptil releases specific pheromones that naturally appease and calm dogs. Available as a diffuser you plug in to the wall, a collar or a spray.
  3. A white noise machine:
    An actual white noise machine works so well to block out the noise. You could also try a loud fan and keep music or the TV playing.

See our related posts to help a dog’s fear of fireworks:

Dog's fear of fireworks and thunder

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Barbara b

Saturday 4th of July 2020

My bernsise mountain 5 years old started getting scared 2 years ago its heartbreaking i tried benydrill it made him worse he got outside tried to escape so i follow him around he puts his 165 lb body in the smallest areas i push pillows up against him with all his stuffed toys and then i lean up against him he sometimes calms down slows his panting nervous about giving him medicine so i do what i can today is july 4th 2020 little pops have been goin off all day so i know we are in for a long night radio is up doors are shut tv is on

Cindy

Saturday 20th of June 2020

Our 9 year old dog is terrified all of the sudden by the back up noise on vehicles and by vehicles and motorcycles racing on the freeway. She will hardly go on walks anymore. Calming chews haven’t helped enough and we hate to medicate her every day. We are at a loss as to what to do. Any suggestions?

How to Help Your Pet Survive the Fourth of July - RV Lifestyle

Wednesday 3rd of July 2019

[…] can act out in a fireworks-induced panic, as our friends at ThatMutt.com recently wrote about in a blog. They collected stories from their readers about how dogs can act […]

Louise Jackson

Sunday 30th of June 2019

My BC Jett was terrified of thunder. I started playing with a toy when a storm Rolled in. So every time we had a storm he would run to the toy box and come running with It to Play. He associated thunder with play as a good thing He was 14 1/2 yrs when I lost him in April. 2018

Kim Chappell

Thursday 20th of June 2019

Properly crate train the dog so it is comfortable in a solid plastic crate, plexiglass the openings if needed to keep dog from digging at the grates. Drill holes in the plexi for ventilation. Fill the crate half full of straw, hide small high value treats in the straw for the dog to find. Play loud classical music, place crate in a dark room.

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 20th of June 2019

Great ideas, thank you.