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Why Are Dogs So Scared of Fireworks—and How Can You Calm Them Down?

The 4th of July isn’t always fun for our four-legged friends. A little understanding about why dogs are afraid of fireworks can go a long way toward helping them cope.

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Pink, purple, and white Fourth of July fireworksMelodie Yvonne/Getty Images

Dogs and fireworks

With outdoor celebrations and yummy food, the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, and other holidays that feature fireworks are definitely something for us humans to get excited about. Our dogs, though? Not so much. Firework displays (whether or not they are legal or illegal in your state) can strike fear in the hearts of even the bravest dogs, causing them to scamper off, hide, and shake the moment the first pop goes off. So, why are dogs so scared of fireworks, and what can you do to comfort your pup during this confusing dog behavior? Here’s what the experts have to say.

Close-Up Of Dog looking fearful and anxious from the sound of fireworksChee Sim/Getty Images

Why are dogs scared of fireworks?

Obviously, the loud sound is jarring, but dogs don’t react that way to all loud noises. So what is it about firecrackers, specifically? “From your dog’s perspective, they’re not able to reason out where that noise is coming from or why that noise is happening,” says Gary Richter, DVM, a veterinarian and the founder of Ultimate Pet Nutrition. “To them, loud, unexpected noises—especially noises that can come from an unknown source—can be very disconcerting, as it could mean danger.” The booms, cracks, and pops trigger your dog’s fight-or-flight response, which can present in a number of ways.

While you might think that hearing the same sort of noise over and over again would eventually cause your dog to relax, the opposite can actually happen. “Rather than becoming desensitized, a dog’s fight-or-flight reaction can be heightened boom after boom, or year after year,” notes Kwane Stewart, DVM. So if it seems like your pup’s reaction to fireworks gets worse every year, you’re probably not imagining things.

In case you’re wondering, here’s why your dog also freaks out in a thunderstorm.

Scared Dog Sitting in Dog BedDevon OpdenDries./Getty Images

Signs your dog is afraid of fireworks

Dr. Stewart says that clear or extreme signs your dog is afraid of fireworks include whining, barking, howling, shivering, and cowering. Other signs include hiding, pacing, panting heavily, or wanting to be right next to you and never leaving your side. Some dogs can even engage in destructive behavior to cope—such as destroying your belongings—or they may pee or poop inside.

It’s not always clear, however, when dogs are feeling anxious, afraid, or stressed out from fireworks. Instead, Dr. Richter explains, they might exhibit more subtle signs, like sitting in a place they don’t usually sit, going to a room they don’t usually venture into, or even hanging out in the corner. He adds that lip licking and frequent yawning can also be signs of anxiety.

“Every dog has a unique reaction to stress, and even though we sometimes brush it off as ‘Oh, he’s fine,’ simply because the signs are not obvious, we need to pay close attention to all cues,” Dr. Stewart adds. “In short, if your pet is not acting like their normal self during an event like this, it’s their way of saying something is wrong, and it’s worth mentioning to your vet.” Whether mild or extreme, prolonged exposure to stress is not healthy, and it can lead to future medical and behavioral problems.

scared and anxious Chocolate labrador on a couch looking up to cameraJustin Paget/Getty Images

How to calm down a dog during fireworks

The best way to keep dogs from experiencing fear or anxiety from fireworks is to minimize how much popping and cracking they can actually hear. Here’s what you can do:

  • Head somewhere that’s going to be quieter that night, or move to a room in your house that’s away from windows and exterior walls.
  • Drown out the sound of fireworks with calming music or white noise.
  • Create a space that’s safe and cozy. This might mean bringing your dog into a room with their favorite dog bed and toys, and giving them some yummy treats.
  • Be patient with them—even if they bark or howl for long periods of time, and even if they have an accident inside. Giving them love and speaking to them in a calm and reassuring way is the best approach.
  • Dr. Stewart says that a calming vest, such as a ThunderShirt, can be beneficial for some dogs experiencing anxiety. “The pressure on their body can release natural hormones and endorphins that are calming,” he explains.
  • Consider soothing your dog with CBD. “CBD has shown positive signs of promoting calm in pets,” says Dr. Stewart. “I always advise checking with your own veterinarian before using these products, but some that might be particularly helpful this time of year and are certified by the National Animal Supplement Council include Charlotte’s Web Pet Calming Chews, which have full-spectrum hemp extract (2.5mg CBD per chew) in an easy-to-administer chicken flavor.”

Next, find out if dogs can eat hot dogs before you head out to this year’s 4th of July barbecue.

Sources:

Wendy Rose Gould
Wendy Rose Gould is a Phoenix-based freelance lifestyle reporter who covers home, health, wellness, and travel-related topics for people and their pets. In addition to having two kitties of her own, Wendy loves all animals and is always game for meeting new floofs. She holds a journalism degree from the Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism and has a second bachelor's degree in Philosophy. You can follow her on Instagram @wendyrgould.