Why Are Dogs 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.
With outdoor celebrations and yummy food, the 4th 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 they’re 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 scared of fireworks, and what can you do to comfort your pups when they’re exhibiting this type of behavior? Here’s what the experts have to say.
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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, a veterinarian based in California. So if it seems like your pup’s reaction to fireworks gets worse every year, you’re probably not imagining things.
What dog breeds are most scared of fireworks?
While it’s tough to narrow down which dog breeds are most scared of fireworks, as there are a number of behavioral and environmental factors to consider, there is some research that sheds light on which dog breeds are more likely to be scared by the booms and bursts of fireworks. A study out of Finland from August 2020, which gathered data about pups from 13,700 dog owners, found that 70% of the dogs were scared of fireworks. Of those dogs, these breeds were the most fearful of fireworks:
- Cairn terrier
- Mixed breeds
- Pembroke Welsh corgi
- Jack Russell terrier
- Finnish Lapponian
And the breeds least scared of fireworks were:
- Labrador retriever
- German shepherd
- Miniature poodle
- Chinese crested
The study also notes other things to consider when talking about dogs and a potential fear of fireworks, including their level of socialization, age, the types of activities they do, if they’re neutered and if they live with fur siblings.
What are some signs your dog is afraid of fireworks?
According to Dr. Stewart, clear or extreme signs your dog is afraid of fireworks include:
Other signs include:
- Panting heavily
- Wanting to be right next to you
- Not leaving your side
- Engaging in destructive behavior to cope, such as destroying your belongings
- Peeing or pooping 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 its 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 can lead to future medical and behavioral problems.
How do you calm down a dog from 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.
Additional reporting by Kelly Kuehn.
About the experts
- Gary Richter, DVM, is a certified veterinary acupuncturist and veterinary chiropractor. He is the owner and medical director of Montclair Veterinary Hospital in Oakland, California, the founder of Ultimate Pet Nutrition, and the author of The Ultimate Pet Health Guide.
- Kwane Stewart, DVM, is a veterinarian based in California. As the founder of Project Street Vet, he helps provide free veterinary care for pets of people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
- Scientific Reports: “Active and social life is associated with lower non-social fearfulness in pet dogs”