Is your dog scared of fireworks? Don’t wait until the holiday hits, be it New Year’s Eve, Canada Day, or US Independence Day. 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.
Here are some things you can do today.
1. Check with your vet about medications
If your dog gets very anxious about noises and you have never talked to your vet about it, do so now. He or she may be able to prescribe something to help. And if you can’t get in before the holiday, do your best with some of the other ideas here to get through it and call your vet as soon as you can. This is a long-term problem. Sound phobias tend to get worse and are not something to be taken lightly.
2. Countercondition to noises
Get some great treats and start carrying them around at home. Whenever there is any kind of sudden or startling noise, but especially 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. This is sometimes referred to as ad-hoc counterconditioning, and here is an excellent article about a survey that indicated its efficacy.
You may wonder why I am not recommending buying an app, CD, or YouTube video with fireworks sounds to “practice” with. Performing desensitization/counterconditioning with sounds is tricky. People who haven’t done DS/CC before run a real risk of scaring their dogs further instead of helping them, and many of the sound collections are poorly designed for DS/CC anyway. This is why I am suggesting straightforward counterconditioning, which uses environmental noises that are happening anyway. Save the formal training for well after the holiday, when scary noises are less likely to happen.
3. Create a safe place
Make (or adapt) a safe place for your dog. Observe your dog: she may already have a place she likes. Make it comfortable for her. Keep in mind: the flashes of light that come with big fireworks displays can be scary too. Consider a method to darken any windows nearby or shield the safe place with a cover if necessary. Be aware that the low-frequency sounds of thunder are physically impossible to mute with the amount of absorbent material we can use at home. But being underground can usually help a bit, so basements are a good option for some dogs. Get the best protection you can in a basement or your most internal room. Despite the marketing claims, dog crates with walls a few inches thick can’t dampen low-frequency sounds significantly. Putting a soft cover on a crate does nothing to prevent the sounds of thunder from entering, although it may cause an auditorily cozy feeling because it deadens some of the reverberant sound in the space.
4. Play sound or music
Experiment with sound masking or music to find out what is most helpful for your situation. Try 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 approach is evidence-based and called sound masking. Start working on it today.
And here’s a tip: the lower the frequencies included in the masking or music, the better it can hide those low-pitched booms (Kinsler et al., 1999). So if your dogs are already habituated to pounding rock music, metal, 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. Taiko drumming is great if your dogs are accustomed to it. You can buy a few songs and loop them or find some on YouTube. But first, be absolutely certain that the music itself doesn’t scare your dogs. If they are already sensitive to booms, it probably will.
You can check out the Bang-Dog Playlist from Triplet Noir Studios if your dogs are already accustomed to hearing heavy metal. Be aware that some of the language in these metal selections is not family-friendly. Before anyone mentions it: heavy metal has not ranked well in the dogs and music studies, tending to make shelter dogs more agitated. That’s not surprising. People might find it almost sacrilegious that I am suggesting heavy metal. But if you play it already and your dogs are fine with it, they are habituated. In that case, these playlists could be the perfect thing for you.
Household appliances can help. Some floor fans hit fairly low frequencies and can be helpful. You can run the dryer (no heat) with a pair of sports shoes inside for some booms that will probably be familiar and not scary. You’ll need to find the line of best fit for your dogs.
5. Practice going out
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 it? Are your fences and/or leash and harness secure? Dogs who are usually sedate 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. Consider keeping your dog’s harness on for the whole evening if that will eliminate some stress of putting it on a scared dog.
6. Comfort your dog if that helps
LOSE the idea that there’s something wrong with comforting your dog if that’s what your dog wants. Helping a dog through a tough time is not “coddling.” Assess what is most helpful to your dog: a cuddle, food after every thunderclap, 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.
For more information on helping dogs through fireworks, check out Storm and Sound Phobias on Debbie Jacobs’ Fearful Dogs site.
Thanks for reading!
Kinsler, L. E., Frey, A. R., Coppens, A. B., & Sanders, J. V. (1999). Fundamentals of Acoustics (4th ed.). Wiley. Check out pages 318–320 for information about masking.
© Eileen Anderson 2015
26 thoughts on “6 Ways To Prepare Your Dog for Fireworks Starting TODAY”
I bought a well-known series of CDs and started with the thunder sounds. No. The “mildest” segment started with some slow Chopin piano, single notes with long drawn-out pauses, and Boom, rumble rumble. Not faint at all! My doggie ran around the house in a panic, trying to see where the storm was, panting, etc. Useless! Put on Beatles music and dance during the fireworks if anything. She now runs to me when I say “boom boom, yay!” and give her cheese.
Yes, that is a real hazard with sound CDs. So sorry that happened! Sounds like you have a good system now. Thanks for the comment.
Brilliant, Eileen! I have been leaving a link to this all over Facebook! Lots of Airedales have sound issues. And thanks for the Taiko suggestion! Got one in iTunes and it worked great for Reggie. Started it soft half an hour before the show, turned it up gradually and we were in business. I think it helped that we have used a thunder CD to mask thunder ( we spent literally weeks if not months playing that thunder tape ALL EVENING while we watched TV and whatever.) It was coincidence that we found it masked the thunder.
Peggy! Masking thunder with a thunder CD! Of course! Why didn’t I think of that? It might interest you to know that dogs can’t hear as far down into the low frequencies as we do. (Dogs can hear much higher than we can, which is more widely known.) So the average home sound system can cover their bottom range. It takes low frequencies to mask low frequencies, so a recording could definitely mask thunder that isn’t too close. Once it gets close, no sound system could mask it and you wouldn’t want to try. Anyway, thanks so much for sharing this. I’m going to update some articles!
While it’s a big hassle, leaving town was by far the most effective thing. We fled to the Sierra Nevada Foothills and it was very nice.
How lovely! (I’m from the Central Valley.) I’m sure your dog/s approved!
My two wheaten terriers run around barking and sounding like they’re going into attack mode, as opposed to running and hiding in fear. Is this just another side to showing fear? This can happen with any loud noise, not just fireworks or thunder.
We can’t say over the internet what a dog’s motivations are, but barking can be from excitement but also most definitely from fear. Like the dog is saying, “Stop it, go away, go away!” Some trainers point out that when dogs attack from fear they actually are achieving the same thing as running away: attempting to “take out” the threat. You might check out the CARE protocol, Harriet. It has information on how to help dogs who are reacting either from excitement or fear, and some information on telling the difference. Good luck!
Thanks for this post Eileen. I’ve shared it! Your note on fireworks CDs is interesting. I’ve always been skeptical of a CD being able to reproduce the entire fireworks experience. But I tried it any way. Last year my puppy was six months old on the 4th. That April I started playing a CD and followed the typical progression with it and increased the volume a bit everyday. She was a rock star with fireworks last year. I didn’t even think to do it again and this year she is trembling and clinging. I have no idea if her acceptance last year was related to her puppy-ness or the CD or what, but it’s a totally different reaction this year. Lots of chicken this year….
I think when they are that young, just exposing them to different sounds with good associations, or at least without bad ones, can be a good thing. And truly, a couple of studies have shown that recorded sounds helped a little bit, but that was with a combination of approaches I think. Anyway–most people’s speakers can’t generate the booming low frequencies in a convincing way. So while it might be a good way to start out (under threshold), you can never duplicate the “entire fireworks experience” as you so aptly called it.
I’m so sorry your pup is having a hard time this year. Sound sensitivity at that age–maybe a vet visit is in order?
Thanks for sharing the post!
We have the NY ceremonies and fireworks on while the neighborhood ones are going and turn it up loud and she just assumes it’s on TV as well as outside I guess and doesn’t pay any attention just lays down and ignores all of it. and when the dog isn’t scared the cats aren’t either. guess they assumed that if the dogs fine and not scared they are too. it has worked great the last 3 years. Before that they were always looking for a place to hide and very nervous wondering around the house looking for that place and looking at us with those fearful eyes and wondering why we weren’t doing something about it.
That’s a great idea! It underscores that they can tell the difference between the two (recordings and local/live), but still the ones inside the house can mask some of what’s outside. Thanks for sharing that!
My dog and I would hang out in a dark closet or the bath tub…I eould hold her the whole time!
Awww! Good for you!
I decided to try firework sounds piped through my TV with loud bass speaker attached. Nothing. No reaction. I’m surprised, as in the past when I tried gunshots on the TV, my one nervous dog reacted. Unfortunately, where I live now I doubt anything will keep my dogs from freaking out during the 4th since people here seem to take great joy in setting of m60s or larger right outside our house. Those scare me! Our windows rattle and the flash of light is really scary. Truly looks like a bomb is going off (which I guess it is, just a small one.)
Even my very stable dog, who walked through a procession in Mexico with drums and fireworks going off around us, gets scared by the explosions by our home. Not much we can do but leave, I guess.
Oh man, that’s rough. Thanks for the info about your good speakers, but I’m sure sorry it didn’t help.
If their reactions are severe enough and/or longlasting enough, you might talk to your vet. There are some new situational meds specifically for that.
I do know one person who loads up her dogs in the car and drives for much of the evening. That has some down sides as well, though. Take care. Sorry about the M60s. Gosh!
My dog Callie is smart and afraid of thunder. When it starts she goes up to my noise machine and puts her ear right up to it. Self soothing? Self mediating? Who knows? It works!
Just this evening I was doing some sound experiments with masking (which is what these machines do). It’s pretty amazing how effective they are in some frequency ranges.
Callie is definitely smart!