Dogs & Fireworks -
A Guide To Help Keep Them Calm
In the second century BC, in Liuyang China, a man throws a bamboo stick into an open burning fire. It explodes. The family is now protected from bad spirits that are scared off by the loud bang. Into the 600-900 BCs, and the first gunpowder is invented. Legend has it that a Chinese alchemist concocted this powder from potassium nitrate, charcoal and sulphur. By pouring it into the aforementioned exploding bamboo stick, the first firework was born. (1)
Now centuries later, fireworks are the delight of small children and the bane of small animals.
We use them to celebrate some of the most momentous days of our year. While we may love the beautiful shreds of colourful light sizzling across the sky, our dogs are not so enchanted.
This guide is for you if your dog struggles with the loud noises of firework celebrations. We’ll first talk about why dogs are frightened of fireworks. When you know the roots of their fear, it’s easier to soothe them. Then we’ll discuss how to calm a dog during fireworks both inside and outside. We’ll briefly discuss anti-anxiety medication and the events in the Australian calendar you should mark off as potential firework events.
Why Are Dogs Afraid of Fireworks?
Before we get into how to help dogs with fireworks, it’s good to understand exactly why dogs are scared in the first place.
1. Fireworks Are Loud
At their most basic level, fireworks are noisy! They screech. They squeal. They snap. They bang. It’s a musical feast to us, but remember that our doggie’s ears are much more sensitive than ours.
There is a chance that fireworks also emit sounds in the Hz range that only dogs can register.
“The average adult human cannot hear sounds above 20,000 Hertz (Hz), although young children can hear higher. (Hertz is a measure of the frequency of a sound, and the higher the frequency, the higher pitched the sound.) Dogs, on the other hand, can hear sounds as high as 47,000 to 65,000 Hz. These are sounds far too high-pitched for us.” - Stephanie Gibeault, American Kennel Club. (2)
So your dog could be bombarded by even more high pitched, louder sounds than you are.
2. Fireworks Trigger the Fight or Flight Response
We seem to get a little thrill from frightening things as humans. (3) A small jump is quite exciting. We are in awe of fire, sparks and loud bangs even though our caveman brains feel a little jumpy around them.
Dogs are far saner in that regard. When their flight or fight response is triggered, they quite rightly try to avoid the situation altogether. Your dog will seek safety and security. This will typically be some kind of den which we will discuss more later in the article But the problem is...
3. With Fireworks, There’s Nowhere to Run
Whether you are inside or outside, the squeak, squeals and bangs from fireworks are still audible. You can’t ignore them and neither can your dog.
Even if your dog seeks refuge in a cosy den or crate, the noise can still get through.
If you are outside at a fireworks display, it’s even more difficult for them. There’s nowhere to hide at all.
4. Fireworks Are Unpredictable
Put yourself in your dog’s paws. You are curling up for a nap. Slowly dozing off and then
Out of nowhere, a firework fires and you jump out of your skin. But it’s okay. The noise is starting to simmer down, so you curl up again.
BANG BANG BANG
Your body seizes up again as the flight or fright response takes over.
Fireworks are so unpredictable to dogs. They can’t see them coming. They don’t know when they are going to stop. It’s unnerving to have mysterious sounds happening out of your range of sight and not know when it will all end.
Unfortunately, we can’t shield our pups completely from all of these things. But we can do our level best!
How to Calm a Dog During Fireworks Outside
Don’t Take Your Dog to Fireworks Displays
It seems like an obvious point but avoidance is key here. If you take your dog to live fireworks displays, you are putting them in a very nerve-wracking position. Not only is there likely to be large crowds around, but the noise is also far louder than it would be in the house. There’s nowhere to escape.
It is also much more difficult to desensitise your dog to being at fireworks show. They happen so rarely and the desensitisation tips we’ll get onto in the next section do not work for live shows. Why? Well, the noise and atmosphere are difficult to replicate.
Some dogs can be fine at fireworks show but in general, it is not good practice to bring them. Hire a dog sitter if possible, to care for your dog at home so that they aren’t subjected to a potentially stressful situation.
Make Sure Your Dog’s Microchip Information Is Up to Date
Say you are walking innocently through the park and a local celebration is happening. There is a fireworks display, your dog gets spooked and runs for the hills!
This is why it is vitally important to keep your dog’s microchip up to date. It's good practice to update the register yearly to ensure that your number and address are still correct.
Go For a Long Walk Before the Fireworks Go Off
If you do intend to take your dog to fireworks display or a nearby one, it is best to make sure they are well exercised beforehand. Tiring out your dog a little can help soothe their anxiety response.
You could even walk your dog well away from your house and any epicentre of the display. The noise will be lessened if you are further away. Only do this if the fireworks start before sunset as it’s not worth walking your dog at night during an ongoing fireworks display. There is a greater chance they will get scared, run away and get lost.
How to Calm Your Dog During Fireworks Inside
Create a Safe Space
Dogs are denning animals and love the safe space of a warm cave. Crates are ideal safe havens from the havoc of fireworks.
“Some of your puppy’s earliest memories tie back to the comfort and safety of being with mom (and littermates) in a safe, secure, den-like space. Additionally, when dogs are ill, injured, or otherwise needing a place to relax and feel safe, they will seek out a den or “den-like” protected space.” - Cathy Madson, Preventative Vet (4)
While you may worry that your dog will see their crate as a “gaol cell,” the truth is actually quite the opposite. When crate training and conditioning is done correctly, a crate provides a calming and protective space where your dog can relax and feel secure — and truly be safe.
Of course, crates only work as an anti-anxiety technique if your dog is already used to one. Creating a cosy crate space that is available all year round will acclimatise your dog. They’ll start to associate the space with safety and quiet. When fireworks start, you may even find they rush to their safe space anyway as a coping mechanism. This was the case for our dog. His safe space was an outside kennel that he constantly rushed to whenever he felt anxious.
Fill the crate or kennel with blankets and toys. The more comfortable and enticing the better.
Mask the Noise of Fireworks
There are two techniques to mask the noise of fireworks effectively. You can create barriers to the sound or you can overtake the sound with something else.
Closing the curtains and windows can help conceal the sound a little. It depends on how close you live to the fireworks display. Sometimes there is no escaping them.
In that case, you can leave the TV on or play music to help mask the sounds. Again, this can only be so effective but it does work to an extent.
Desensitise Your Dog to the Sound of Fireworks
Many dog trainers find desensitisation a very effective technique against phobias and anxiety. To effectively desensitise your dog to the sound of fireworks, you’ll need some audio of fireworks. This is easy to find on YouTube. Just Google the Sydney New Year’s Eve display for the previous year and you’ll find tons of videos with crisp, clean audio.
Begin by playing a short video and instantly calming your dog when the noise starts. Soothe him with your voice. Pet his head. Stroke his fur. Hug HIM. Show him to his safe place. Whatever works best to soothe any nerves.
Keep doing thighs periodically over time until you can play a 10-15minute video without too much stress. Your dog may still prop up their ears but not shake or yelp. This is the point where your dog has been desensitised as best as possible to the sound of fireworks.
It is worth noting that not every dog will respond to this. Some dogs are just naturally more anxious and twitchy than others. There’s not much you can do about that.
It is worth a try though. Even if it takes the edge off just a little bit, any progress is worth attaining.
Comfort Your Dog
Whether inside or outside, you must master the art of comforting your dog for them to feel safe. Remember, a huge issue with fireworks and dogs is that there is nowhere to run! You may be their only refuge at that moment.
Now is the time to be mushy. This could be by softening your voice or bringing out your favourite toy. You can distract them with a game of fetch or cuddle up on the sofa together.
makes an excellent point about how your calmness can transfer to your dog, “One of the most important tips for comforting your dog is to remain calm yourself. Although soothing an anxious dog won’t reinforce their anxiety, anxiety can be “contagious.” If you’re nervous or scared, your dog may pick up on your body language, behaviour, and pheromones and become nervous or scared, too.” - Elisabeth Geier (5)
Your ability to make your dog feel safe and secure comes from your bond.
Related: How To Calm An Anxious Dog.
Medication: What Can I Give My Dog to Calm Him Down From Fireworks?
Medication is a tricky subject. SSRIs and anti-anxiety medication are possible for dogs. Small doses of Xanax, Prozac, Zoloft and Valium are all dog-safe when prescribed by a vet. (6)
That said, starting your dog on heavy antidepressants is not worth it for fireworks show. These drugs take a couple of weeks to kick in and have a dramatic effect on your dog’s temperament. If your dog has moderate to severe anxiety over long periods, you can chat with your vet about medication. But these are not good fail safes for short term use.
The following remedies are less invasive:
1. Bach’s rescue remedies
This is completely a personal anecdote. When my oldest dog was travelling in a car for a long period in her younger days, she would worry and fuss a lot. We gave her a couple of drops of Bach’s rescue remedy, and she calmed down slowly. Bach’s is a natural remedy made from derivatives of flowers. It is based on holistic botanical sciences but trust me though, they worked for us!
Because the drops are completely natural and in small quantities, they are completely safe to use on your dog. They even have animal rescue drops now which may taste a little better to your pup than the original recipe.
Simply use the pipette to drop some of the solution onto their tongue. There is no harm in trying!
2. CBD oil
CBD oil is another natural remedy that many dog owners swear by. Known to have any anxiety effects in humans, CBD-based dog products have started popping up on the market more and more recently.
CBD (cannabidiol) is a compound found in cannabis. It is responsible for the “relaxing” properties that marijuana has when smoked.
There have been no official studies of the effects of CBD oil on dogs. (7) There has only been personal testimonials from dog owners who praise the swift treatment on their anxious dogs.
I can’t fully put my weight behind this recommendation as the science is inconclusive. Do check with your vet if it is okay and use small quantities if you do decide to use CBD oil.
3. Pheromone therapy
Pheromone diffusers have been around for a long while. They contain chemicals that are meant to mimic dog pheromones.
“Pheromones are a type of chemical communication between members of a species. The vomeronasal organ, which is located between the nose and mouth, receives pheromones…. certain pheromones, called calming or appeasing pheromones, can sometimes help relieve stressed pets.” - Sandy Eckstein, PetMD. (8)
The science on this is well-documented. (9) Many swear by their pheromone diffusers. They are readily available, affordable and completely harmless. They don’t emit an odour or get in the way. All you need to do is plug them in earlier on in the day - well before the fireworks starts. In theory, the diffuser will help calm your dog and make them feel relaxed in their atmosphere.
It won’t suddenly make them blind and deaf to fireworks. But a pheromone diffuser could help take the edge off.
Australian Events Where There Is Likely to Be Fireworks
- New Year’s Eve - 31st December - 1st January
- Australia Day - 26th January
- Diwali (Indian festival of light) - typically the first week of November
- Australian Open Opening (Melbourne) - typically the last fortnight in January
- Chinese New Year - typically the first week of February
- Sydney Lunar Festival - part of Chinese New Year celebrations though typically celebrated in the second or third week of February.
- Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras (Sydney) - typically the first week of March
- Brisbane Festival (Sept) - September
- Christmas tree lighting at Martin Place - typically the final Saturday in November
I love fireworks personally, but I understand why my dogs aren’t so keen! They are disruptive, smelly and loud. Calming your dog all depends on your pup’s personality. If they are highly energetic, then distracting them with a game could work perfectly.
If they prefer a calm atmosphere, having their sacred den ready and waiting for them when the fireworks start will help them feel at ease.
I hope the tips in this article helped you concoct your own plan to shield your pup from the next fireworks display happening near you.
Anxiety is quite easy to spot in dogs.
Symptoms can include:
- Peeing or pooping in the house
- Destructive behaviours such as chewing
- Excessive barking
- Repetitive or compulsive behaviours such as excessive licking
When your pup is anxious, they will have an air about them of generalised stress.
We are talking about what is called situational anxiety today. That is anxiety that is onset by a specific situation.
Each dog will exhibit stress and anxiety in their own way but those are the tell-tale signs.
If your dog shows these signs over a long period of time and can’t be consoled, please speak to your vet. Your dog may have an anxiety disorder and may need counterconditioning therapy or pharmaceutical treatment. (10)
It depends on your dog’s disposition. If they already struggle with anxiety, then fireworks certainly won’t help the situation. It is incredibly important to make your dog feel as safe and secure as possible.
If your dog is particularly close to fireworks and has a large fright, they can have some PTSD from the experience. If you suspect that your dog is suffering from PTSD or severe anxiety after a fireworks show, contact your trusted vet for advice.
Sights and sounds can’t make your dog physically ill. Unless their anxiety causes them to vomit, but that would be a very severe case.
If your dog ingests a firework, however, that is very serious.
There are several oxidising compounds in fireworks that enter your dog’s bloodstream and cause the haemoglobin to rust. Haemoglobin is the enzyme that carries oxygen around the body and gives blood its characteristic red colour. The rusting process is called methemoglobinemia.
“If you notice your dog’s gums are discoloured and brown, this could be a sign that methemoglobinemia has started. Mucus from the eyes and nose as well as urine can also be tinted brown when this begins.” writes Jenna Stregowski for The Spruce Pets. (11)
Your dog needs emergency care if they ingest any firework or sparkler. Firework toxicity is extremely scary and has a low survival rate. Call the emergency vet immediately.
Not at all! Dogs have very different personalities and different tolerances to triggers. Some will hear fireworks happening and think of it as a slight annoyance. They will barely bat an eyelid. Other dogs will be howling and pacing until the noise stops. It all very much depends on your dog and their natural disposition.
- “History of Fireworks”. The American Pyrotechnic Association. Retrieved July 12, 2021. https://www.americanpyro.com/history-of-fireworks
- Gibeault, S. July 13, 2018. “Dogs Don’t Have a Sixth Sense, They Just Have Incredible Hearing”. American Kennel Club. Retrieved July 12, 2021. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/sounds-only-dogs-can-hear/
- Dwyer, C. October 19, 2018. “5 Reasons We Enjoy Being Scared”. Psychology Today. Retrieved July 12, 2021. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/thoughts-thinking/201810/5-reasons-we-enjoy-being-scared
- Madson, C. June 24, 2021. “Crate Training Your Puppy or Adult Dog: Everything You Need to Know”. Preventative Vet. Retrieved July 12, 2021. https://www.preventivevet.com/dogs/everything-you-need-to-know-about-crate-training-your-puppy-or-adult-dog
- Geier, E. “How Do I Comfort My Dog?”. Rover. Retrieved July 12, 2021. https://www.rover.com/blog/how-do-i-comfort-my-dog/
- Coates, J. July 7, 2020. “10 Medications for Dog Anxiety”. PetMD. Retrieved July 12, 2021. https://www.petmd.com/dog/behavior/10-medications-dog-anxiety
- February 24, 2021. “CBD Oil for Dogs: What You Need to Know”. The American Kennel Club. Retrieved July 12, 2021. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/cbd-oil-dogs/
- Eckstein, S. “Pet Behavior Problems: Can Pheromones Help?”. PetMD. Retrieved July 12, 2021. https://pets.webmd.com/features/pet-pheromone-products-for-behavior-problems#1
- Kim, Y. M., et al (2010). Efficacy of dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP) for ameliorating separation-related behavioral signs in hospitalized dogs. The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 51(4), 380. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2839826/
- Kriss, R. January 15, 2021. “Understanding, Preventing, and Treating Dog Anxiety”. The American Kennel Club. Retrieved July 12, 2021. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/treating-dog-anxiety/
- Stregowski, J. June 1, 2020. “Firework Toxicity in Dogs”. The Spruce Pets. Retrieved July 12, 2021. https://www.thesprucepets.com/firework-toxicity-3385036