This is the time I try remind my pups that fireworks are just innocuous bombs humans enjoy setting off every once in awhile to celebrate and have fun. Hopefully your pups understand, or more likely, are desensitized. Fireworks are a very common fear for dogs which can develop at any time, even for those pups who have appeared calm in the past. Therefore, it’s best to take precautions for any dog. Some signs of stress are not as intuitive or obvious either, such as lip licking and yawning. Animal control officials nationwide see a 30-60% increase in lost pets each year between July 4th and 6th. Check out the following advice shared by Lulu Clarke of Yellow Brick Dogs, a local training professional (info and certifications detailed below).
At my house, fireworks mean puppy parties! We play loud music to drown out the noise (sorry neighbors, but I promise it’s better than the alternative). We dance, play, and rain super yummy treats whenever a random scary noise occurs. We also secure the perimeters and keep everything including potty breaks supervised, as random scary happenings provide great motivators to find new escape routes and violate normal polite door protocol (think flight or fight). We also use Adaptil diffusers and/or sprays and prepare high value rewards like frozen Kongs stuffed with yummies that can help distract, encourage calming behaviors such as licking, and last awhile. One of my pups also responds very well to Thundershirts or tight clothing.
You can absolutely assist your dog with fearful noises like fireworks. It’s important to keep in mind that fear is an emotion, not a behavior. Research shows that comforting a fearful dog receptive to your comfort will not reinforce its fear. However, the alternative is not true, as adding fearful stimuli such as showing fear yourself, using harsh words, or other forms of punishment can reinforce fear. Think about what you would do if a young child displayed similar fears.
*Lulu Clarke is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner, Certified Fear Free Professional, Animal Behavior College Certified Dog Trainer and member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, Pet Professional Guild, and Project Trade. Lulu offers private dog training in Richmond through her business called Yellow Brick Dogs. I personally use her help for what I affectionately describe as my “special needs” pups. Check her out here
Fear Free Happy Homes has excellent courses and articles about all kinds of fear in animals.
Dog Decoder is a great resource (and app) to learn to better read your dog
Art of the frozen Kong