Fireworks can be a thrilling sight for us, but for many dogs, they can be an overwhelming and anxiety-inducing experience. The loud bangs, bright flashes, and unfamiliar smells can trigger fear and distress in our canine friends. There's nothing harder to see than my poor little BooBoo shivering, shaking, and unable to calm down due to the loud noises. Over the years, I've tried many things to help my chihuahuas feel calm and safe over the 4th of July and New Years when my neighbors seem to go crazy with fireworks. In this blog post, I'll share my top tips and strategies that I've used to help keep my dogs calm and comfortable during fireworks, and these tips work well for thunderstorms too!
Understanding Your Dog's Fear of Fireworks
Before diving into specific techniques, it's important to understand why dogs get anxious during fireworks. Dogs have sensitive hearing, and the loud noises associated with fireworks can be extremely unsettling for them. Additionally, the sudden bursts of light and strange smells can further contribute to their distress. Signs of anxiety in your dog may include panting, trembling, pacing, hiding, excessive barking, or attempts to escape. You'll want to plan to make sure your dog stays inside and update contact information on collars and tags, jut in case! While different breeds of dogs (like chihuahuas-haha) may be more sensitive in general, any dog or animal can be scared of fireworks, so this gos for all pets, not just your dog!
Preparing for Fireworks
This best advice I can give you, start now before the holidays or rainy season! Many of the methods that I have used require some advance training and preparation to be as effective as possible. There are also tools on the market that will require a purchase, so you'll want to order well before hand and prior to the fireworks display.
1. Create a Safe Haven: Designate a quiet, secure area in your home to be a safe space where your dog can retreat during fireworks. Ideally, this space should be an interior room or basement, away from windows and external noise. Make the area comfortable by adding their bed, favorite toys, and a piece of clothing with your scent. It's helpful to spend time here with your pet beforehand so they know its a safe and comfortable space, Use high value treats and praise to really anchor in positive emotions while your dog is in this space. If your dog uses a crate and is happy and comfortable in it, make sure its available in this space as well. One of my dogs go to safety method is her crate. Anytime she's uncomfortable, just being ale to hide in it is all she needs to pass the time acceptably.
2. Consider Using Desensitization Techniques: It is possible to train your dog not to fear fireworks and loud noises. Consider working with a fear free dog trainer to get the most out of this method, especially if your dog has a lot of fear that comes out in other areas of their life.
Start by gradually introducing your dog to the sound of fireworks by playing recorded firework sounds at low volumes. Start with a very low volume where your dog can hear it but doesn't seem bothered. Provide high value treats and lots of praise and positive reinforcement. Gradually increase it over time, staying within your dogs threshold while providing treats and positive reinforcement. This helps desensitize your dog to the noise, reducing their fear response.
3. Talk to Your Vet: If your dog's anxiety is severe, consult with your veterinarian. They may suggest anxiety-reducing medications or natural supplements to help your dog remain calm during fireworks.
4. Try A ThunderShirt: A ThunderShirt is a specialized garment designed to provide gentle pressure and create a swaddling effect on dogs, helping to alleviate anxiety and fear during stressful situations such as fireworks or thunderstorms. The shirt is made of a soft, breathable fabric and features adjustable straps to ensure a snug and comfortable fit for your dog. The gentle pressure applied by the ThunderShirt has a calming effect on the nervous system, similar to the feeling of being held or cuddled. This can help reduce stress, trembling, panting, and other anxiety-related behaviors in dogs.
- ThunderShirts are widely used and recommended by veterinarians and dog trainers as a non-invasive and drug-free solution for anxiety management in dogs. When used properly, the ThunderShirt can be a valuable tool in helping your dog feel more secure and relaxed during stressful events.
5. Try Calming Essential Oils: Essential oils have been known to promote relaxation and calmness in dogs. High quality and premium essential oils properly diluted can be safe to use with your dog. You can utilize calming essential oils by diffusing them in the room where your dog will be during fireworks, making a spray, or adding a drop to bedding. Lavender, cedarwood, vetiver, and copaiba are some of my favorite calming oils. For more info on using essential oils to help calm your dog, click HERE.
- Start Early to Associate Calming Oils with Positive Experiences: If you plan to use calming essential oils to help soothe your dog during fireworks, it's beneficial to start introducing them before the actual event. By associating the scent of the oils with positive experiences, you can help create a sense of calm and relaxation in your dog.
- Begin by diffusing the chosen calming essential oil in your home during calm and enjoyable moments for your dog, such as cuddle time or playtime. This helps them develop a positive association with the scent. Offer treats or engage in rewarding activities while the oil is being diffused. This positive reinforcement will help your dog associate the aroma of the essential oil with pleasant experiences. Over time, your dog will start to associate the scent of the essential oil with feelings of relaxation and security. This also works well to do in the safe space you've created for your dog.
- Additionally, monitor your dog's behavior during the initial introduction of the essential oils and discontinue use if you notice any signs of discomfort or negative reactions. Essential oils are very concentrated and a little gos a long way. For everything you need to know to safely diffuse essential oils with your dog, click HERE. By gradually introducing calming essential oils and associating them with positive experiences, you can help your dog feel more at ease during fireworks and other stressful situations.
Tips for Firework Night
1. Exercise and Mental Stimulation: Before the fireworks start, engage your dog in a long walk or play session. This helps burn off excess energy and reduces anxiety. Mental stimulation activities like puzzle toys can also help distract your dog.
2. Provide a Calming Environment: Close all windows, curtains, and blinds to minimize the sound and flashes of fireworks. Turn on calming music, white noise, or even a T.V. to mask the sounds outside. Using a Thundershirt or anxiety wrap can also provide a comforting, swaddling effect for some dogs.
3. Stay Calm and Relaxed and Comfort Your Dog: Dogs can sense our emotions, so it's important to remain calm and relaxed during fireworks. Project a sense of normalcy and engage in activities you typically do together. Use a soothing tone and if your dog likes petting, gently pet in slow, long strokes. Dogs look to us as the leader, so it's imperative that we remain calm and reassuring.
4. Distract and Redirect: Offer your dog interactive toys or food puzzles to divert their attention away from the fireworks. Chewing on safe toys can provide a natural calming effect.
5. Positive Reinforcement: Whenever your dog displays calm behavior during fireworks, reward them with praise, treats, or their favorite toys. This positive reinforcement helps associate fireworks with positive experiences. If you have a puppy, you can really anchor in that fireworks are ok by using this method.
6. Essential Oils: When the firework night arrives, use the same essential oils in the same way that you introduced them to your dog in preparation, keeping the positive association intact. Keep in mind that you still want to monitor your dog's behavior and discontinue use if you notice any signs of discomfort that don't seem to be associated with the fireworks.
Here are two of my favorite diffuser blends I use during fireworks:
2 drops cedarwood
2 drops copaiba
2 drops lavender
1 drop cedarwood
1 drop vetiver
If you'd rather make a spray than use a diffuser:
Calming Lavender Spray:
Grab a 2 ounce glass spray bottle (available on Amazon)
-Fill it up halfway with vodka
-Add 10 drops Lavender
-Fill the remainder of the way up with water
-Shake well before use
Spray a fine mist of the mixture on your dog's bedding or in the air, around the designated safe space.
I also have used two blends from my go to essential oil source, Young Living™ Essential Oils:
Valor™: Valor is a blend of essential oils, including Black Spruce, Blue Tansy, Frankincense, Geranium, and Camphor Wood, known for their soothing and balancing properties. I find this essential oil blend very calming and grounding. I will often apply a drop in my hand rub my hands together, inhale deeply, then pet my dog with the residue. Valor™ is a pre-diluted blend and is generally safe for topical application in this way.
Stress Away™: Stress Away is another popular essential oil blend from Young Living™ that I have explored for its potential calming and stress-relieving properties. This blend combines essential oils like Copaiba, Lime, Cedarwood, Lavender, and Vanilla, known for their soothing and relaxing qualities. Simply add a few drops to a diffuser. If you don't have a diffuser, add a few drops to a cotton ball and stash in a strategic area.
Young Living™ is a trusted source of high-quality essential oils and infused products, and they are known for their Seed to Seal® promise, which guarantees purity, potency, and sustainability. As a pet parent, this assurance of quality is crucial when selecting products for your furry friends. You can check them out HERE
(Please note that the provided link is an affiliate link, and I may earn a small commission from your order at no additional cost to you. Your support is greatly appreciated as it helps support my small business!)
Start implementing the strategies outlined in this blog post now to give your dog the best chance of getting thru firework night with minimal tension. From understanding your dog's fear and considering desensitization training well in advance to creating a safe space, incorporating exercise, mental stimulation, and positive reinforcement, and considering the use of calming essential oils, you have a range of techniques at your disposal. Remember to tailor your approach to suit your dog's individual needs and consult with your veterinarian and dog trainer for advice. With patience, consistency, and a proactive mindset, you can help your canine friend navigate fireworks with reduced anxiety, making the night less of a bad experience for them!