5 Ways to Prepare for the Bangs and Booms!

Firecreaker exploding in the air

Don’t wait until New Year’s Eve. You can make a plan and take action now to help your dog be a bit less afraid of the unpredictable scary sounds of fireworks, firecrackers, whistles, and even guns.

Get Ready

Here are some things you can do today.

  1. Get some great treats and start carrying them around. Whenever there is any kind of sudden or startling noise, including stray bangs and booms as people start to test their noisemakers, rain treats down on your dog. Use those special treats only for noises; don’t pass them out for nice behavior (use something else for that!), and don’t ask for any particular behavior from your dog when the noise occurs. Just give the special treats. 1)You may wonder why I am not recommending buying an app or CD with fireworks sounds to “practice” with. Performing desensitization/counterconditioning with sounds is tricky. The chances of getting successful conditioning in the three days between this blog post and New Year’s Eve are slim, and there will be a huge tendency to rush. People who haven’t done DS/CC before are far more likely to scare their dogs further than to help them. This is why I am recommending only Step 1 above, which consists of counterconditioning without systematic desensitization, using environmental noises that were going to happen anyway.
  2. Make (or adapt) a safe place for your dog. Keep in mind that the flashes of light that come with big fireworks displays can be scary too, so consider a method to temporarily darken any windows nearby.
  3. Experiment with sound masking or music to find out what is the most helpful for your situation. There are two contrasting methods here. Some people find that slow, quiet classical or easy listening music is soothing to their dogs. If you have already found that to be so, use it, but don’t try it out for the first time when the fireworks are going on. It does not work for all dogs, and you might even get “reverse conditioning” and make the music scary to your dogs if it predicts fireworks. The other method is to use some kind of recorded white noise, natural noise, or music to mask the pops and booms. (Even a noisy food toy can be helpful.) This “mechanical” approach is more to my liking. And here’s a tip: the lower the frequencies included in the masking or music, the better it can hide those low-pitched booms. So if your dogs are already habituated to pounding rock music or some other music with a lot of bass or percussion, play it! It can mask some of the scary noises from outside your house more effectively. I have a taiko drumming CD that is great for this. But if you try that, be absolutely certain that the music on the CD itself doesn’t scare your dogs first. If they are already sensitive to booms, it probably will. You’ll need to find the line of best fit for your dogs.
  4. Make a plan for taking your dog out to potty. Do you know when the noise is usually at its worst and can you work around that? Are your fences and/or leash and harness secure? Otherwise sedate dogs have been known to panic and run off on noisy holidays. Don’t let that happen.  Keep your gates locked, your dogs’ ID tags on, and put some redundancy into your safety system.
  5. LOSE that idea that there’s something wrong with comforting your dog. You can’t reinforce fear, and helping a dog through a tough time is not “coddling.” Assess what is most helpful to your dog: a cuddle, some lap time, sweet talk, being in their crate with a food toy, or hiding by themselves in a secluded place. Then help them do it.
The best part of thunderstorms: spray cheese!

The best part of noisy holidays: spray cheese!

Check out lots more resources and tips on my page “You Can’t Reinforce Fear.

Thanks for reading! Remember to cuddle your dog, if she likes it!

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

© Eileen Anderson 2014                                                                                                             eileenanddogs.com

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Notes   [ + ]

1. You may wonder why I am not recommending buying an app or CD with fireworks sounds to “practice” with. Performing desensitization/counterconditioning with sounds is tricky. The chances of getting successful conditioning in the three days between this blog post and New Year’s Eve are slim, and there will be a huge tendency to rush. People who haven’t done DS/CC before are far more likely to scare their dogs further than to help them. This is why I am recommending only Step 1 above, which consists of counterconditioning without systematic desensitization, using environmental noises that were going to happen anyway.
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19 Responses to 5 Ways to Prepare for the Bangs and Booms!

  1. M. Lione says:

    But the fireworks CDs are very helpful when introduced gradually and with sufficient time in advance of the fireworks events. I start every year several weeks before July 4th, Labor Day and New Year’s eve. it helps my dogs immensely.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Sounds like you do it just right! Kudos to you for the foresight and putting in the time to make your dogs more comfortable.

  2. kimberlygauthier says:

    We play with the dogs all day long; allowing very few naps. In our community, they’ll be lighting off fireworks all day long (but not as badly as at midnight) and our dogs quickly become used to the noise and the distraction of their favorite toys helps too.

    We’re lucky to have dogs who don’t get super stressed with the fireworks.

  3. leash lady says:

    Awesome post! Thank you!

  4. hro1957 says:

    Thank you Eileen and your readers for your input. We adopted our 1 1/2 year young lab mix / pit in April 2014 and, though 4th of July and shots from hunters’ guns during dove hunting season didn’t seem to faze her, we will prepare ourselves and our adopted pet for fireworks.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      That’s great! I’ve learned that sound sensitivity is something it’s very good to be proactive about. It doesn’t cost much to do a little prophylactic work with dogs who are fine with sounds today. We can help them stay that way.

  5. Eileen Jesmer says:

    I am going to try a Thunder Shirt on Teri.I have friends that swear on them Love the name eileenanddogs

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      If I may, a couple of suggestions. First, “practice” with the thunder shirt before the noise starts. You still have a day or so. If you don’t, you risk teaching your dog that the shirt predicts something scary. Second, be sure you can tell the difference between calm and your dog being frozen. Sometimes dogs get very quiet and still because the effect of the tight shirt shuts them down.

      Good luck, from one Eileen to another!

      • Sonya Bevan says:

        Yes! Two really important points. For example: I’ve put a new harness on a dog and they have suddenly become “calm”: but they are not calm they have frozen with the new object on and are not comfortable at all. You are certainly a gun Eileen. I often tell people to try a t-shirt on the dog (backwards) and put a knot in the back to tighten it a bit. If the dog is OK with this and it appears to work, then go ahead and invest in a thunder shirt. It is a way of testing the effect of pressure on the body of the dog.

  6. Sara Martin says:

    We put on a Friends dvd and let it loop on high volume. It’s what my husband and I usually watch before bed and we’ve found it helps calm Brodie since he associates it with bedtime. Whatever works right?

  7. nickynockynoo says:

    Thank you for this post Eileen I had never considered using different treats. Obvious when someone smart brings it to attention! This did pose a problem for us as we couldn’t think of anything our dogs never have at one time or another. All our meat scraps are used for training, the usual beef, pork, chicken and lamb but also occasionally, more exotic meats such as goose, duck etc. Cheeses, all sorts, along with liver and squirty varieties and of course many commercial dog treats.

    We ended up buying soft centred cat treats and baby food. They are going down well and tiny enough to go a long way. It’s going to be a long evening. The bangs began at 5pm! Oh great, only 8-9 hours to go!

    Thanks for another informative post.

    Wishing you a very happy New Year and all the best for 2015,

    Nicky and dogs

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Thank you so much, Nicky! And stay tuned for one more blog from me about good treats!

  8. Just found some Taiko drums on Spotify. Thanks for the suggestion! We live near a military base, so this might help mask the sounds for us.

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