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How to Help Dogs that Fear Firecrackers

Updated on July 17, 2012

A good place to start

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It happens twice a year, once for New Year's Eve and the second time around near Independence Day. Your dog does pretty well for the other times of the year, unless there are severe thunderstorms or sudden unexpected loud noises. Yet, you are not alone. Each year hundreds of dogs get startled from firecrackers or thunderstorms, some to the extent of requiring sedatives prescribed by the vet.

After all, one must understand the fact that dogs have very sensitive ears and what we perceive as loud to a dog's ears it may almost approach the unbearable. Add also the fact that dogs are sensitive as well to the vibration loud noises cause, so they may get startled as well from feeling both noise and vibration .Put them both together and you have the recipe for a very scary event.

Yet, there some things owners can do to help their canines friends before the holidays. If you dog is one that will head under the couch or howl from fear when all his family members are celebrating, following are some tips that may help your dog cope better with his fear.

-Desensitize

Desensitization is one of the most effective behavior modification strategies available. Because fireworks and thunderstorms are not always present, most dogs never get used to them because of their sporadic nature. Instead if you purposely and systematically expose your dog to such noises, you may be able to get your dog used to them so he will no longer fear them. You can purchase a tape of thunderstorms noises or firecrackers or record them and them play them over and over during the day.

-Countercondition

Classical counterconditioning is like adding a cherry on top of a sundae. It makes desensitization much more effective and changes the dog's emotions. To counter-condition, it is best if the tape is played when the dog is very hungry. So the dog will associate the noise with something positive. Put the tape on at low levels and feed treat. Shut tape off, treats end. Turn tape on, feed treats, stop tape, stop treats. Or you can always make it a habit of feeding your dog when the tape is on. The noise of firecrackers will become a cue that mealtime is coming! From fear your dog will go to anticipation!

However, if your dog is so terrorized to refuse to eat, put the tape away and start another day by playing it very low and then gradually increasing the volume. Always praise when the dog appears more confident.

- Provide Distraction

If upon playing the tape your dog is still fearful, try to engage him on a series of obedience training exercises or play his favorite game. Start playing a game of fetch or tug of war, anything your dog likes to do as long as it distracts him from the noise of the fireworks. Let him know that great things happen when the firework tape is running. If your dog is still too much on edge, invest in a thundershirt or anxiety wrap.

On the Big Day

When the holiday arrives, do not be surprised if your dog is still acting a bit fearful. Real fireworks are pretty different than a tape recording, they are louder, they cause vibrations and your dog may not like the lights they produce. Hopefully you will have prepared your dog to the event weeks or days prior with desensitization tapes and distraction exercises. Following are a few more tips:

-Confine in a Crate

If your dog is still nervous during the firework display rather than having him engage is destructive behaviors, racing around and risking to getting hurt, place him in a dog crate where your dog will be safe and more likely to relax. If you have introduced the crate correctly, your dog will seek it for comfort. Make sure to give a stuffed Kong to keep your dog entertained.

If you allow your dog to run around and sneak under the bed or table, this behavior will be reinforced. However, if your dog is very anxious avoid the crate altogether as your dog may then associate the crate with the fireworks. Rather, keep your dog on a leash next to you as you try to distract him with a toy or a stuffed Kong.

-Talk to Your Vet

If your dog has not been able to cope with the tape recordings regardless your efforts or is already too nervous days prior to the holiday, talk to your vet. In some cases, your dog must be medicated to better cope with its fears. A mild sedative may help your dog go through the event without too much drama. Thankfully,the events happen only twice a year, and your dog will be back to his normal self for another 6 months or so.

For a more detailed behavior modification program read: How to Help a Dog Fearful of Loud Noises

Japanese Fireworks are loud!

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    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      6 years ago from USA

      Melis Ann, your idea of using the washer and dryer is great since it presents the stimuli in a less threatening matter which is part of desensitization process. If you add counterconditioning on top of that you may make the results more powerful.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      6 years ago from USA

      Thanks a bunch Mary615, my goal is to help dog owners in need and when I am helpful I am happy! Best wishes!

    • Melis Ann profile image

      Melis Ann 

      6 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

      My setter is terrified of storms and fireworks - sounds like this is pretty common. We tried sedatives but he is getting old now and its not as safe. We use his crate which is in the laundry room. I make sure to run the washer and dryer when there is noise that makes him crazy. He feels safe in the crate and the noise and vibration from the washer/dryer drown out the noise from storms. It's best if I can anticipate the storm since once he is worked up its harder to calm him down. Great hub - good idea with desensitization. Shared.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      6 years ago from Florida

      I'm glad I read this Hub. Everytime I read one of your Hubs I learn something new that can help me with my scared little schnauzer. She is terrified of thunder, fireworks and any other loud noise!

      I will vote this Hub UP, etc. and will share.

    • Mindy Meisel profile image

      Mindy Meisel 

      6 years ago from Austin, Texas

      This is good advise. I liked the part about, not rewarding, the negative behavior!!

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      9 years ago from USA

      I should have mentioned that only crate trained dogs should be placed in a crate. If a dog is not used to be crated of course, they will be further scared. Dogs that risk hurting themselves should be crated. Some dogs will just panic and bump into furniture risking getting hurt. Of course, each dog is different and reacts differently but the crate can be a life saver for dogs that lose control and panic.

      When my dog is scared of something, ie, when we had construction workers drilling, I placed my dog in a crate covered with a blanket. She was moving a lot for a while,I ignored, and then she stopped whining after a bit and eventually even fell asleep!

      Distracting is one of the best tools along with desensitation. Of course, owners should work on these weeks or months in advance.

    • jackinabox profile image

      jackinabox 

      9 years ago

      Great tips for helping your dog through the fireworks on new years eve.

      I've had a dog who got quite nervous around firecrackers. Reassuring her, like you say, just made things worse. Confining her to a crate did not work either. The combination of a being a crate and the noise, in her case, actually made her even more scared. We did get her some pills to help her relax, from the vet. Unfortunately they usually made her sick. Sick and scared was not a great combination either.

      What did work however was simply avoiding the noise or at least go to a place where there were less fireworks. Distracting her with play and food and generally acting as if nothing special was happening had a somewhat calming effect on her.

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