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Why Are Dogs Scared of Fireworks?

If you have a dog who is afraid of fireworks, you can really begin to dread any holiday when you know they will be set off. Your dog can become so frightened that it is impossible to console him. You feel helpless and sad for your favorite canine friend. Though on some level, we can understand a fear of the noises associated with fireworks, it is harder for us to comprehend why our dogs don’t acclimate to the sound over time. After all, shouldn’t our dogs realize after experiencing a fireworks show once or twice that they are harmless?

Dogs by nature are sensitive to sounds, and loud noises in particular have a powerful effect on our dogs’ nervous systems. When a dog experiences a fright, his natural reaction is to run in an attempt to find safety. This can lead to disaster. Dogs who bolt when startled or afraid can often become disoriented and find themselves unable to track their way home. But even more tragic is when a scared dog runs directly into the path of an oncoming vehicle and loses his life.

But it’s not just noise that brings on such a strong reaction in our dogs. Fireworks emit flashes of brilliant light, and they also release a fragrance. Since they are lit and explode close to the ground, they have an even more potent effect on our dogs’ senses. It is easy for them to become overwhelmed and to feel terrified.

Facts About Dogs and Fireworks

Though fireworks seem harmless and even enjoyable to us, some dogs just aren’t able to view them the same way. Here is a list of some common facts about fireworks that may help you to understand Fido’s fireworks fears a little more clearly:

  • A strong reaction to fireworks is normal for a dog.

Sometimes we fail to remember that a strong reaction to an overpowering and often unexpected noise is quite normal. We humans have had many years of experience to learn that fireworks are merely harmless entertainment when set off under the proper conditions. Our dogs do not have the benefit of being able to make that association.

Dogs also don’t operate according to a calendar as we do. Though they may understand what typically happens in their homes during certain days of the week, they have no cognizance of when holidays will occur. This is significant because it means our dogs cannot anticipate when fireworks will take place, meaning they are always surprised when they sound.

  • Your dog’s strong sense of hearing intensifies the sound of fireworks.

Since dogs possess hearing faculties which are far more acute than our own, Fido’s experience to fireworks is going to differ greatly from ours. Something that might gently startle us may frazzle Fido’s last nerve. Our dogs’ powerful hearing means they are sensitive to the slightest sounds, making something as loud as a firework shooting off particularly jarring on the canine system. 

  • Each time a firework goes off, your dog is startled.

The same fear you experience when someone surprises you from behind is akin to what your dog feels every single time a firework goes off. As humans, we have an approximate idea of how many fireworks to expect before a show closes for the evening. But Fido is taken by surprise every last time. He has no clue when the next one is coming or even if it will ever stop. This places him at a high sense of alert which is very stressful for a dog and can even leave to panic attacks.

There are many physical symptoms which accompany this fear. As adrenaline races through your dog’s system, his heart begins to beat much more rapidly causing his blood circulation to increase. All of this places great strain on your dog and leads to feelings of great anxiety and distress. 

  • Fireworks affect a dog differently than a thunderstorm.

Many dogs do not have strong reactions to thunderstorms. Why is this? Because thunderstorms are often accompanied by subtle changes which foreshadow something is going to happen, thunderstorms rarely take your dog by surprise. Atmospheric pressure, darkened skies, and even differences in wind velocity alert your dog that the weather is about to change. Unfortunately, there is no precursor to alert your dog that fireworks are about to commence. 

  • Some dogs have no fear of fireworks at all.

Though some dogs are terribly afraid of fireworks, others feel no fear at all. Some don’t even bat an eye at the sound of the first firework of the night!

Comforting a Dog Who is Afraid of Fireworks

If you happen to have a dog who is afraid of fireworks, it is going to be of paramount importance that you find a way to help comfort him. There are a number of things you can attempt that will help your dog find peace in the midst of fireworks.

Here is a list of things you can try: 

  • Desensitization can help.

Given enough time, desensitization is a powerful tool which can help you to break the spell fireworks have over your dog. Best accomplished with the help of a professional dog trainer, desensitization might possibly help your dog to learn that fireworks aren’t so scary after all. 

  • Provide a safe space for your dog to retreat to during fireworks.

Many dogs will flee at the first sound of a firework being set off. You can help your dog with this by providing a comfortable space where he can retreat until the fireworks show is done. By filling the space with things that help your dog to feel calm, you will go a long way toward reducing his anxiety. 

  • Reward your dog with a special treat during fireworks to incentivize calm behavior.

Dogs respond exceptionally well to positive reinforcement. You can make use of a clicker and very high value rewards to teach your dog that the crack of a firework equals a yummy, yummy treat for him. This process is known as counterconditioning. It is also a time-consuming and sophisticated technique, but with perseverance, you can accomplish your ultimate goal.

  • Make use of tools such as Thundershirts.

Calming aids like Thundershirts get mixed reviews from owners. Some dogs do exceptionally well with them on while others don’t seem to experience any benefits at all. At any rate, it is worth a try!

Thundershirts work on the same principle as swaddling. Infants who are swaddled feel nearly instantly soothed by the tight wrapping encircling their bodies. It gives them a feeling of safety and well-being. This is what the Thundershirt is intended to accomplish for anxious dogs. 

  • Maintain a calm demeanor.

The very best thing you can do for your dog is to remain calm. If you are upset, your dog is going to be upset. If fireworks are coming, now might be the right time to grab a good book and a hot cup of tea, and curl up on the couch with Fido for some calm, quiet reading time.

If Fido is afraid of fireworks, he is in good company. Many dogs are! Though this behavior is perfectly normal in dogs, there are some things that you can do to help Fido realize that fireworks aren’t so bad. Though he may never learn to love them, he can definitely learn to live with them.

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