Dear Maxine: Frightened in Fremont
June is here and I am already worried about the weeks to come. Soon it will be the Fourth of July, and with this comes fireworks. I am so frightened of fireworks and I’m dreading it. How can my human keep me safe and comfortable during the holiday when I am so anxious and scared?
Frightened in Fremont
Thank you for your letter and for sharing your fear of fireworks season. You are not alone! I too suffer from this fear and it is very serious issue that I am sure many of my readers deal with every year. While fireworks can be a fun way to celebrate our country, sometimes fireworks and dogs just don’t mesh.
While not ALL dogs are scared of fireworks, a 2013 study found fireworks were the most common trigger for fearful behavior in dogs. Responses included: trembling, shaking, hiding, seeking comfort, destruction, urination, and salivation.
Most theories about why focus on noise sensitivity in dogs but recent studies have suggested environmental factors as a cause. These could include a traumatic noise-related event early in a dog’s life - exposure to specific loud noises are involved in the development of fear responses to noises. Also, a lack of exposure to loud noises as a puppy can create a new, often jarring, experience for older dogs. The study also discovered a correlation between changes in a dog’s environment and fear. Dogs raised by the same owners who bred them were less likely to be afraid of noises later in life. The researchers noted that hunting breeds such as Labradors or Springer Spaniels were not as sensitive, and that crossbreeds were likely to be more fearful. (TheDogPeople. Why are Dogs Afraid of Fireworks? June 2021). The way owners respond to a dog’s fearful behavior and how other dogs in the pack react to the noise have also been offered as possible explanations.
It is up to our humans to make us more comfortable during this time. There are steps they can take so that the explosions have less of an effect on us pups. Here are some suggestions to our parents to manage our stress and ensure our safety during fireworks season:
Prevention is the best medicine. Don’t let your pup tag along to a fireworks display — no matter how much you'd love for them to be there. Instead, leave your furry friends indoors with the windows closed and curtains drawn to help muffle loud noises. If they’re crate trained, shutting them inside the crate and covering it with a blanket might provide an added sense of security and safety, or put them in a bathroom or other small room with music or white noise to help drown out the boom of fireworks. Bringing beds, blankets, and toys into the room can make them feel more comfortable. If you have a basement that they can be in safely out of earshot of the fireworks, this might be your best option.
Start working with your dog far enough in advance to desensitize them to fireworks and other loud noises. You can start this process by playing fireworks sounds on a low level while playing with your dog and giving them treats. Over time, slowly increase the sound of the fireworks during these play sessions. Eventually, your dog will associate the sound of fireworks with happy and fun moments.
Try calming wraps, vests, and shirts that apply light, constant pressure. Many dogs find this soothing and calming. You may find such products help in other anxiety-inducing situations, like thunderstorms. If that is not effective, talk to your veterinarian about medication. There are a variety of options that could help treat your dog’s firework phobia.
Pheromones. Available via a diffuser, a spray, or a collar, Adaptil , a dog-appeasing pheromone can reduce your dog’s anxiety. A research study specifically evaluated its use for storm phobia in dogs and found it effective.
Melatonin. The over-the-counter supplement is widely available. When using melatonin for anxiety, pet parents report differing levels of relief. Dr. Dodman, in his book The Well-Adjusted Dog, states that while he’s seen some success stories, melatonin isn’t always effective. (Talk to your veterinarian about appropriate doses for your dog).
Prescription medications. In severe cases, medication can be a lifesaver for a noise-phobic dog. Prescription medications for dogs are often like meds that doctors prescribe for human anxiety. Your veterinarian can guide you through the various choices.
Make sure your pets get plenty of exercise earlier in the day to expend extra energy that could add to their anxiety when the fireworks start going off.
Put the TV or radio on to help drown out the sounds. Music with gentle sounds are typically best to help ease their anxiety. Give them their favorite toy or get them a toy that works their mind and rewards them with a treat.
Stay with your dogs if you can. If not, perhaps a trusted adult can be with them. Your presence will help with anxiety. Give your dog’s lots of hugs. Long, slow strokes help to calm your pet. Avoid acting frantic, as your dog can pick up on this. Remain calm and reassuring.
Remember, more of us pets run away on the Fourth of July than any other day of the year. So, it’s important to ensure people can identify us and contact our human’s if we run off out of fear. Check our fencing to make sure there aren't any openings through which we pooches, could escape when you let us out. Never leave us dogs off our leash. You do not know when fireworks will sound, and anxiety will make us unpredictable at times. Make sure we dogs have our collars on, and that the collar fits properly and identification tags are present as well. Getting us microchipped well in advance of such holidays is also a smart decision.
I hope this helps you and your human get through firework season stress free. Remember, these suggestions can be used all year round for other phobias such as thunder and loud storms. Until next time, stay healthy and happy!
Maxine (& Brenda)