The Frenzy of Fireworks

How to keep your dog safe during firework shows

Several years back, I was standing outside my home, hose in hand, as I watched my neighbors setting off their personal fireworks.  These weren’t just regular fireworks—they were modified explosions on steroids.  These particular neighbors had a dangerous history of pyromania and had a few incidents where their experiments had gone wrong, so I got in the habit of watering down my yard and roof (yes, roof) each 4th of July.  This particular year, they were pretty tame in that moment, but as they set one off, I saw a small shitzu-sized dog run into the middle of the street right as the fire ignited.  The dog was running after the firework with the gusto of a ninja.  He was going to save the world from this lightning rod of fire.  I can tell the story with humor now because nothing horrible happened to the dog, but it could have ended in disaster very easily. I swung the hose toward the street with every intent to either extinguish the firework and start a neighborhood war, or somehow create a wall of water impenetrable to the dog.  Luckily, just as I got into position, the dog stopped in his tracks, turned around and ran the opposite direction.  

As I look back on the incident having more education in dog behavior, I know it was the typical fight or flight response stemmed in fear.  This dog was terrified and his reaction was to fight, so he ran toward it to neutralize it.  As he got closer, the flight response took over and he ran.  I don’t know who the dog belonged to or where he went, but all humor aside, this is why we need to plan ahead for our dogs when fireworks will be lighting up our skies. 

More dogs go missing and end up in shelters on the 4th and 5th of July than any other day of the year.  Most shelters are inundated with terrified dogs and cats, and sadly, many of them have lasting effects, or even worse, never make it home.  Right now shelters are full and many of them are beyond capacity. This extra wave of animals will make the situation even more dire than it is.

If your dog is noise-sensitive and scared of fireworks, here are several tips to help you help them.

Keep them home; don’t take them to fireworks shows. 

We all want to take our dogs with us to as many places as possible, but this night isn’t the night to do that.  Keep your dogs home and the doors and windows closed.  It is best if somebody is home with them, but even if you do leave them, make sure they are safely inside and comfortable.  If you have an interior room and your dog is comfortable hanging out in that room, hunker down, watch tv, play games, and enjoy their company. 

Stay home and comfort them.

I highly recommend somebody stay home with the dog/s and comfort them.  Unfortunately this does mean sacrificing going to a fireworks show yourself, so it’s asking a lot for some, but for many dogs, it is what is best for them.  Yes, you can comfort your dog.  The old adage of, “don’t comfort them because you are reinforcing fear” is wrong.  You cannot reinforce your dog’s fear; it’s not possible.  (Think about a fear you have as a human and then think about somebody comforting you.  That comfort doesn’t make you want to fear the item/thing even more, it just makes you feel better).  So, comfort away, but within reason.  Sometimes the best comfort we can give our dogs is sitting near them so they know we are there, but leaving them completely alone. 

Go outside with them before it gets dark so they can potty.

Before it gets dark, take your dog outside to potty and do a short play session.  Let them get the wiggles out, then bring them inside so they can hunker down for the remainder of the evening.  Better yet, go for a hike during the day and really wear them out!  If by chance they do need to go outside while the fireworks are going off, go with them, and if you need to, put them on a leash.  Do not let them go out alone.  This is when they are most vulnerable and will run off, so keep a very close eye on them.

Turn on the radio, tv, or white noise machine.

A dog can hear much better than a human, so whatever we can do to muffle the sound of the fireworks, will help them.  Turn on your TV or radio to something calming, or put in a calming CD.  If you have a white noise machine, those are great too.  Don’t blare them too loud though because that can cause more stress, so find a happy medium.

Close the blinds/curtains and turn on your lights.

Close any blinds and curtains you have.  I love blackout curtains because they are excellent in blocking the flashes and strobes, but even if you only have blinds, close them and turn your house lights on to prevent as much flashing as possible. 

Use a diffuser with Lavender oil

Lavender has been shown to help with stress, so you may use it in a diffuser, but don’t put any strong smelling items directly on your dog.  You want your dog to be able to distance themselves from the smell if they see fit.  Put the diffuser in the opposite end of the house from where you will be hanging out.  Your dog will still smell it, but it won’t be strong enough overwhelm them. 

Give your dog enrichment items, food puzzles, and other games.

Prepare the night before and put several Kongs in the freezer, then when the fireworks begin, take one out and let your dog chew away happily.  You can also do this with lickimats, food puzzles and many other enrichment items.  You can play games with your dog.  One of my favorite easy games is to get a muffin tin and a few tennis balls.  Put a treat in the tin and cover it with a tennis ball.  Then put a few more tennis balls in the other spaces.  Turn your dog loose and let them find the treat.  You can also hide treats around the house and let them sniff around until they find them.  For other DIY enrichment items, visit the enrichment section on my website: https://trainingtoat.com/enrichment-ideas/

Make sure your dog is microchipped and consider a GPS

Microchips have become mainstream and are essential to getting your dog back if he/she does get loose.  Make sure you have your dog microchipped and if you really want to take it another level, consider getting a GPS your dog can wear. To read more about GPS recommendations based on my own experiences with several of them, visit https://trainingtoat.com/2022/04/10/gps-dog-tracker-recommendations/

Remember, just because the booms have stopped doesn’t mean the fear has.

Hours after all the fireworks have stopped, there is still a smell in the air and sometimes the smoke still hangs around.  Our dogs can pick up on those differences and more, so remember, just because the fireworks have stopped, doesn’t mean our dogs will go back to normal.  When dogs experience a stressful event, it can take 72 hours or more for the cortisol levels to come down for our dogs.  Keep your routine the same and understand they may still be scared a few days later. 

Depending on the level of fear your dog has, you may need to talk to your vet about the medical side of things to help him/her, but using a combination of the above items will help you and your dog get through the night in most cases.  Stay safe and celebrate wisely (But have a hose nearby, just in case!).

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