Behavior Tip: Fireworks Phobia

Happy Fourth of July!

Independence Day is a wonderful way to celebrate summer and family.  Fourth of July festivities can be stressful for those of you with a dog who is fearful of fireworks. 

Fear of loud noises and flashing lights is an adaptive response for animals because fear can help to protect an animal from danger. Moving away from a loud booming noise may save your life! However, most animals will adjust to the sights and sounds of fireworks as they learn that no adverse events are associated with fireworks.

Dogs with fireworks phobia develop a persistent and excessive fear disproportionate to the stimulus. Some dogs have mild anxiety, while other dogs become severely anxious which can result in destructive, self-injurious, and aggressive behaviors. Owners may observe increased salivation, urination and/or defecation, vocalization, trembling, escape attempts, hiding, and vomiting. 

How can you manage your fireworks phobic dog?

  • Do not comfort your dog. It is natural to try to provide reassurance, yet this can inadvertently reinforce the fearful behavior leading to increasingly intense reactions. It is best to try to ignore your dog once you ensure his/her safety.

  • Do not punish your dog. Punishment will increase your dog’s anxiety and confirm that there is something to be scared of.  

  • Do not leave an anxious dog home alone during fireworks.

  • Keep your dog inside with windows and doors secured. Pull curtains closed to prevent seeing flashing lights. Try to settle your pet in the quietest room of the house. 

  • If your dog is comfortable in his/her crate, try placing heavy blankets over the top to lessen noises, but be sure your pet does not overheat. It is best to leave the crate door open because even dogs who are comfortable in a crate most of the time may demonstrate destructive and/or self-injurious escape attempts. 

  • You might also try draping heavy blankets over a table, especially if your dog has already sought refuge under the table.

  • Background noise may help. Turn on the television or play music (rap music may blend well with the percussive sounds of fireworks). Fans or radio static may help by creating white noise.  

  • Do not try to restrain an anxious dog because he/she may resort to aggression. Your dog can injure himself/herself or you in an attempt to escape restraint.

Although fireworks phobias are seen only a few days of the year, you should address this problem to prevent needless anxiety and potential injury. Both behavior modification and pharmacological intervention may be indicated. To discuss a possible solution for you and your dog, please contact me.