Katy Perry might think we all should shine like fireworks that light up the night sky. Some dogs might disagree.
Fireworks act as a great metaphor when we need to talk about finding our inner strength. They also tend to make big bangs that can cause some animals to become fearful, stressed and disturbed.
If festive nights full of fireworks are your pet’s worst nightmare, find out how to keep your dog calm as we examine some tried and tested techniques.
Why Dogs Fear Fireworks
Whatever the occasion for fireworks, you’ll almost always find one pet owner making a trip to the vet for sedatives to keep their dog calm. Not all dogs are afraid of fireworks but many are. There are good reasons why some get more frightened than others.
Several studies have found that factors like length of time with owner, age, breed, sex, reproductive status along with early exposure to particular loud sounds can all have an impact on how dogs react to noises such as those made by fireworks.
Dogs Hear Better Than We Do
Dogs have much more sensitive hearing compared to human beings. They can hear sounds around four times further away than we can and they can also hear higher frequency sounds.
Dogs tend to be able to differentiate sounds relatively easily. For example, they might recognize the sound your car makes. They’ll often identify the precise location of a sound too.
Dogs’ ears contain more than 18 muscles that control their ear flap alone. This is what makes a dog’s ears so expressive and so great at picking up sounds. They’ll prick up their ears quite literally to help them hear.
The ear muscles also let dogs turn their ears like a periscope to follow the direction a sound is coming from. It should therefore come as no surprise that certain sounds, like the whizz, bang and screech of fireworks, can send a dog into a total spin.
Some studies have shown that up to a half, perhaps more, of all pet dogs get frightened due to particular noises. They can see these as a threat and display at least one sign of being afraid when exposed to these sounds. Symptoms include:
- Urinating or defecating indoors
- Hiding or salivating
- Panting heavily, shaking or trembling
They respond in these ways as a result of what we refer to as noise phobias. These can happen when the fear relates to specific sounds such as those made by fireworks. These noises can induce extreme behaviors like trying to scratch through a wooden door in order to escape.
Dogs Have a Keener Sense of Smell
Some dogs have several hundred million olfactory receptors in their noses. That compares to around 6 million in humans. The part of their brains that deals with smell is about 40 times larger than ours.
Some dogs can develop a fear of a smell that stems from an association with a certain sound. This includes the sulfurous smell of fireworks.
This could explain why a dog might show no fear of a thunderstorm but might act differently when they hear and smell a firework.
Storms also tend to come with certain warning signs such as alterations to barometric pressure and high winds. This lets dogs prepare themselves for what’s to come.
Tips for Keeping Your Dog Calm
The jury is out on whether training your dog to get used to the sound of fireworks from an early age can work. Some dog psychologists argue that early exposure to a frightening sound can actually increase the risk of a dog developing a related phobia.
Others disagree although with the caveat that any training can take months. This would happen by exposing a dog to recorded firework sounds and gradually raising the volume and rewarding your dog for keeping calm.
Create a Safe Space
If your dog is prone to be fearful of fireworks, you should always keep them indoors when any are likely to be going off in your neighborhood.
You should ensure your dog has a tag that identifies them. It can happen that a highly sensitive dog could bolt if they were to hear a sudden noise outdoors that frightens them while you’re out walking them.
You should make a special place in your home where your pet can always feel secure and safe. For example, you may have trained your dog to use their crate. You can use a chew toy or interactive dog game to distract them from sudden noises.
Try these tips too:
- Keep your dog to as normal a routine as possible
- Take your dog for an extra long walk before the festivities begin to tire them out
- Give your dog a petting session including a massage before the fireworks start
- Remember to close all windows and doors
- Keep blinds and curtains closed to prevent your dog seeing sudden flashes
- Play some soothing songs such as harp music
- Try turning on the TV or radio to dull the level of sudden noises
- Invest in a pheromone diffuser device – your vet can help you with this
- Talk to your vet about other alternative therapies for nervous dogs
- Always use positive reinforcement and never punish your dog if they’re afraid
Try taking your dog to where they would normally sleep before the fireworks begin. Use a calming wrap such as an old T-Shirt or vest to cover your dog. This works in the same way as a blanket for an infant and acts as a comforter. Most important of all, make sure you remain calm at all times. Dogs pick up on the emotions their owners experience. That includes feelings of fear and stress.
Keep Your Dog Safe and Happy
Not all dogs are going to find fireworks scary but those that do can suffer a great deal without your care and attention. If you have a dog that is prone to fear loud noises, do talk to us for further reassurance. We always have a vet available to help.
You can find plenty more useful articles related to keeping your pet healthy and happy in our blog section here. We also have a range of highly competitive pet insurance products available too. Get in touch to find out more.