Dog scared of fireworks?

dog fireworks
Above: Dog & Fireworks

Fireworks & Dogs
Is your dog scared of fireworks? If so, he or she is not alone. The numbers of canines who suffer from fireworks fear (aka noise phobia) is estimated to be an astounding 49% of those dogs who fear loud noises.

Fireworks, thunder and gunshot noise were the most common triggers of fear and many dogs actually exhibit more than just one noise phobic issue.

If your pet suffers from fear of fireworks, there are short term strategies you can apply. However, long term resolution should be your goal since the problem only escalates over time.

Desensitizing a dog to fireworks and related noise is possible but it takes time and pre-planning. This means that if you haven’t been preparing in advance for the next fireworks event, you have to take actions that will help in the short term.

It is critical to get your canine into the veterinarian for an exam and some blood work first since a large number of behavior problems (an estimated 61%) are attributed to thyroid dysfunctions.

Relieving your pet of unnecessary stress and fear might be easier if you rule out this issue–or find out if it is in fact contributing to the phobia.

Dog Fireworks Fear Symptoms

A few signs that your canine is scared of fireworks include:

  • inability to eat,
  • shaking or trembling,
  • pacing or restlessness,
  • seeking close proximity to the owner,
  • shelter seeking (to hide),
  • excessive salivation,
  • heavy panting,
  • increased yawning,
  • fear positioning (tail tucked, ears back, cringing),
  • destructive behavior (chewing or scratching),
  • self-mutilation (nervous chewing or licking),
  • loss of bladder or bowel control,
  • anal gland discharge,
  • vomiting,
  • stress related vocalizations (whining, howling, barking),
  • attempts to escape (bolting or running blindly).

Perhaps you have your own dog’s symptoms to add to this list?

The overall trend is for dog fireworks fear to get worse over time.

Again, take the time to get over to a veterinary clinic for help and specific aids as soon as you can.

If your vet isn’t a board certified behavior specialist, get a referral from him or her to someone who is qualified to help.

Okay, time for some quick tips.

Dog Fireworks Fear Safety Tips

  • Keep your animals primarily inside during firework displays and for a few days to a week prior to and just after the holiday.
  • Make sure you have a tag with current information on your pet during this time.
  • Tire your pet out with good amounts of exercise the days you expect firework displays.
  • Tryptophan helps to relax and calm animals. It is found in turkey and pet supplements. Consider adding it to the diet as a temporary aid.
  • If you take your animal outside for toileting or any other activity, make sure they are under physical restraint via a collar and leash.
  • Leave your pets safely at home instead of taking them to picnics or other holiday events.
  • Play music or turn on a radio station with soothing music to help mask outside noises.
  • Buy a plug-in Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) dispenser. This permeates the air with a calming scent and reduces fear and anxiety.
  • Keep your pet busy with activities or chew items before the height of noise making occurs.
  • Visit your veterinary medical professional and ask for aids such as melatonin. This oral neurohormone often provides help for sensitive animals. Use with the veterinarians dosage recommendation and don’t try to do it yourself.
  • Flower remedies are sometimes helpful and work on an energetic level. Five Flower® or Rescue Remedy® mixes may help reduce your pets anxiety. A holistic veterinarian can guide you on alternative options.
  • Create a safe haven. If your animal is habituated to a crate you may want to provide confinement for security. Other options you may have available include the bathroom, laundry room, garage, basement, or any other “den” area. The room to choose is one where there are no windows to jump through, or where windows can be blocked off and that are too high and narrow to access.
  • Some animals want to hide and will feel safe in a favorite spot, like under the bed. You can create sleeping bag tunnel or similar option for them.
  • Plan a party and play at home instead of participating in other events. Making new traditions can be fun and helpful for your pet.
  • Consider boarding your pet at a professional kennel for the holiday.

pet fireworks cd For longer term strategies you want to work on counter conditioning and desensitization with the help of a professional. A variety of pet music CDs are available with many focused on helping pets overcome noise phobias associated with fireworks, thunder, and other loud bangs.

You might want to order the Noise phobia CD available by Gentle Leader or the F7 Sound & Vison fireworks CD.

Over in the United Kingdom a variety of options are available such as the Sounds Scary CD Pack, Sounds Soothing CD Pack, Clix Noises And Sounds CD For Treatment & Prevention Of Sound Phobias In Dogs, or Sounds CD Behaviour Therapy CD for Dogs.

Help your pet get through this holiday with the above CD and a few products you can order online or pickup through your local pet store.

For the home, I mentioned the Dog Appeasing Pheromone Electric Diffuser (DAP) (there is also a cat product called Feliway) but other options include the Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) Collar or Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) Spray.

HomeoPet Thunder Fireworks Loud Noise (TFLN) Anxiety drops is a specific formula for firework phobic pets but other homeopathic products such as Rescue Remedy can help as well.

Although drug therapy and sedation can work, I prefer using psychopharmacology as the last option.

If you decide to go that route, check with your vet clinic for direction since good supervision and management is vital for success.

Be careful about how you interact with your pet if he or she is stressed.

Reassuring your pet is a good strategy but different from the poor choices of cuddling, petting, holding, and trying to physically relieve the stress behavior symptoms. If you don’t understand the difference, take a minute to read my thoughts on Can you reinforce fear?

Other effective products to add to your arsenal against this issue include anxiety wraps such as Anxiety Wrap, the Thundershirt, or Storm Defender.

Using multiple aids and taking safety precautions during fireworks display can help  your pet.

My last word? I have a publication due out on this topic soon. Make sure you sign up on the mailing list so you don’t miss it–and good luck tackling this issue.

Photo Credit: Luf SugarSkull

Animal Behavior Problems: Are You the Problem or the Solution?

dog behavior problems

Above: Should this Sign Say Beware of Dog or Beware of Owner?

Animal behavior problems are not normal, they are a sign of imbalance within a pet household.

Seriously, most animal behavior problems could be easily dealt with if people knew how important it was teach an animal what is appropriate for life in the human household.

Pet parenting is key.

Sure there are exceptions, but notice I wrote teach not train.

Coming from a wild animal training background, I was amazed and appalled at all the weird stuff I saw when I first began working with the pet owning public and even more shocked at what I encountered in the companion animal training world from the so called professionals.

It was dark ages stuff compared to what we were doing with marine mammals and wild animal actors.

What shocked me even more was how people got mad at any suggestions of better ways to do things and the resistance they had to change.

Go figure. I used to believe people really wanted the best for their animals but what I discovered is that most really want is what is easy instead.

Now I hate to tell you that I still hear and see a lot of the same crap I did when I first began working in the pet industry twenty-something years ago, but I do.

And the crap comes from both pros and average pet owners.

A lot of pros perpetuate a bunch of hooey when they should know better or refer over to those who do know better.

For instance, I recently saw bad information being shared in a forum by pet professionals. They made some poor suggestions about using outdated training tools.

So, I have to ask you–are you the problem or the solution to the animal behavior problems you see within your home, out in public, or at places such as the veterinary hospital?

I hate to break it to you but if you are not the solution, you are probably the reason for the bad behavior your pets exhibit.

Most pet owners don’t consider bad behavior as naughty either–and instead make excuses for it.

For example, I recently had someone tell me that her dogs were thieves and that it was in their nature.

I said, Are you kidding me?

Yep, I certainly did.

The problem is not that her dogs are thieves but that they were allowed to engage in the behavior and nothing has ever been done to stop it or to prevent the problem EVER.

In this case the issue is counter surfing–a behavior where the dog(s) will grab things off of the counter in the kitchen or elsewhere.

The reality of the situation is this, if animals are allowed to engage in behavior that gets reinforced (ie., get on the counter and get a tasty bit of food) the behavior is going to increase.

Plus, if that behavior is reinforced on a variable schedule (occasional success) it is more strongly reinforced and that behavior is going to continue and even escalate.

Now, the fact of the matter in this case is that these people are not consistent in how they manage their animals–nor do they consistently monitor their animals.

Diligent management of animal behavior results in consistency and good behavior patterns.

Over the years my animals would never steal from the kitchen. In fact, they all (cats, birds, dogs) knew the phrase, “out of the kitchen” quite well.

So, the owners of the counter surfers who grabbed and stole a package of plain flour tortillas (and took a big bite out of them) are in fact the cause of the behavior problems they hate simply because the humans do not deal with it and don’t prevent it.

I’d love to say that they are the exception rather than the rule but I would be telling a whopper of a lie.

In fact, dogs that bark excessively, dogs that jump on company, dogs that act unruly out in public and engage in other canine crimes are often undisciplined and uneducated animals.

Believe it or not, dogs have to be taught to bark appropriately. How about teaching a perimeter bark, a close proximity bark or to stop barking when told?

Instead of dealing with the issue, people tend to say, “Oh, it’s okay he is just a puppy” or worse, they tune it out and are oblivious to the noise.

Ask the veterinary staff who hear this excuse all the time. It certainly is not okay and a lot of aggression could be stopped at a young age if people didn’t make excuses and instead dealt with the problem.

The news is, if you engage in excuses for your pet, chances are that you are co-dependent. The reality is that teaching good manners starts the minute the animal comes into the home.

Now don’t think I am just picking on dog owners. Cat owners can sometimes be worse since they want to believe the myth of “cats are not trainable.”


ALL animals are trainable.

Why do people choose to allow cats to tromp on the counters with the same feet they use to cover their feces with litter box sand?

I will never understand that one.  Mine have never been allowed on the counters–but then I had training about zoonotic diseases way before most people knew the term.

In addition, I would never allow pets to demand I feed them by clawing, meowing or waking me up at odd hours simply because they decided it was time but a lot of people do allow it.

Perhaps it was because I started my career with big exotics and working with animals who lived in other environments such as water.

I learned how important it was to take control of behavior at early stages out of necessity. That discernment could mean the life or death of someone.

Also, it was clear to me that a tiger cub of twenty pounds was not going to be allowed to crawl onto a lap when he or she wanted.

Why? Because when that cat is 400-500 pounds that behavior will not be acceptable.

Why would I set an animal up for future failure or trouble with another trainer? I wouldn’t.

Instead I would train and manage behavior from the early stages to make sure that animal was happy, healthy and well behaved for the future.

So excuses are just that–excuses. What you need is action and perhaps guidance.

I’d encourage you to get it early and start teaching your animals at a young age.

By the way, if you start early you won’t have to untrain all the bad behavior in order to get better behavior in the future.

The reality is that if you do it right the first go around, life will be easier in the long run.

And probably more peaceful too.

Your tortillas would certainly be safer on the counter as a result.