Dogs and Fireworks: Dealing with Anxiety

Husky and Fireworks

It is that time of year again. Summertime is ripe with fireworks and thunderstorms and if your Husky is terrified by either of these events, then neither one of you are likely to be having a very good time this season. In this article I will be giving you lots of tips on how best to work with your terrified Husky. As well, I will be sharing some alternative interventions that you might want to try.

Why Are Some Huskies Afraid Of These Loud Noises?

We can never quite be sure about why some dogs become afraid of thunder and fireworks. A noise can often frighten dogs because of a previous bad experience or just because they don’t understand what the loud noise is about. Also, to a dog, everything sounds about 4 times louder than it does to a human.

What is understood is that without intervention, this fear escalates with each exposure until it becomes a full blown phobia. In the case of thunderstorms, a contributing factor for many dogs is that they can feel the change in barometric pressure and the electrostatic disturbances associated with the storm. Instinct takes over and says to them, “Quickly, take cover! A storm is coming.” They can also smell the approaching storm. In the case of fire works dogs can not only hear the explosions but they can most likely smell the gunpowder, sulphur and the other chemicals used in the explosions. We also know that owner attitude and presence contributes to a dog’s fear. If the owner is uncomfortable and frightened of an experience, then the dog will also believe that there is something to be frightened about.

Commonly Seen Behaviours In Fearful Dogs

  • Hiding and trembling,
  • Urination and defecating,
  • Chewing , digging to escape, or trying to jump through windows,
  • Panting, drooling, pacing , and dialated pupils,
  • Barking, whining, howling,
  • Hiding behind or under the owner.

What Can I Do To Help My Dog?

Check your own stress and anxiety levels

If you are stressed and fearful then you will be projecting this energy onto your dog so make sure that you breathe and relax too. Model the behaviour that you want to see from your dog.

Avoid the noise

If possible, plan to be away from the area with your dog during the fireworks display. If you can avoid the unpleasantness, your dog will be far more comfortable.

Bring your dog inside

Many dogs are lost every year because they were left outside during firework displays. The dogs become terrified of the noise and they do anything they can to run and get away from the noise. So please be kind to your dog and bring him inside during any fireworks shows and please do not take your dog with you to these shows.

Create a safe quiet place for your dog

Ideally move the dog to an inside room like a bathroom or basement. Take him some place away from windows and exterior walls so he cannot hear the noise or see the flashes of light. If you have a lack of choices about what kind of room you can use, at the very least, pull the curtains closed in the room that you are in so the flashes of light do not light up the room. Move his crate to this safe area but do not shut him into the crate. Have some familiar background noise like a television or radio playing for him to help mask any noise that he might still hear. You can also try playing some special music created to soothe terrified dogs for him.

Distract your dog

Use the distraction of a very special food puzzle toy, a special chew toy, or a High Value treat that they cannot get at any other time to keep their minds off what is frightening them. However, once a dog is over the top of their fear threshold, they will probably refuse food or chew toys so make sure that intervene BEFORE your dog shuts down emotionally.

Give your dog vigorous exercise before the fireworks begin

If you know that a fireworks display is planned for that evening, make sure that you get your dog out earlier in the day for some vigorous exercise. A physically tired dog has much less energy to channel into fearful thinking. Additionally, exercise produces and increases serotonin levels in the body which can have a naturally sedating effect on the dog.

Consider using a special stress garment for your dog

There are specialized garments made to help terrified dogs feel calmer. However, most people use these items incorrectly. If you just place these items on your dog during the stressful or terrifying time then the dog learns to associate the item with being terrified. This is the opposite of what you want to have happen. These garments need to be practice worn during non-stressful times so the dog equates the garment peace with tranquility. You can try one of these special garments:

  • Mutt Muffs – are hearing protection made for dogs that are said to reduce the noise level by 20 decibels.
  • Happy Hoodie – is a round tube of material worn around the head and ears. Groomers often use this item on dogs that do not like the sound of the blower or do not like the feeling of the air being blown around their ears. But now people have discovered that dogs can benefit from wearing these “hoodies” during other loud stressful times too.
  • Thundershirts – These body garments wrap snugly around the torso of the dog to help them feel more secure.
  • Give your dog a Snuggle Pet – These special stuffed animals have a real feel “pulsing” heart beat and they also have a renewable warmer that can be placed inside the animal. It works for anxiety, fear, and loneliness.

DAP (dog appeasing pheromone) collar

These collars will spray a pheromone that serves to calm down anxious dogs.

Essential Oils for aromatherapy

Scents like lavender, basil, ylang ylang , mandarin, sweet marjoram, and bergamot are excellent for stress and anxiety and are used to promote calmness.

Use Bach Flower Remedies

Bach flower remedies like Rescue Remedy, mimulus, larch, and rock rose are excellent for traumatic and frightening experiences. Get professional advice on how to use Desensitization and Counterconditioning techniques for this problem. These techniques are used to condition a dog to learn how to respond in non-fearful ways to stimulus that was originally frightening to him. These techniques must be used carefully and correctly or they will only serve to make the problem worse so seek the help of a professional. If all else fails, consult your vet about using a sedating medication on your dog. Try natural sourced alternative strategies first before using medications on your dog.

What Not To Do

Do not try to get the dog over his fear by flooding him with stimulus. Forcing a dog to endure a fireworks display or a storm will do nothing to help him get over his fear of these noises. It will only increase the fear that he feels and the displacement behaviours that he displays. Do not punish the dog for the behaviours he exhibits while he is terrified. The dog’s behaviours are beyond his control. Punishing a dog for exhibiting a behaviour does not work under any circumstances. Instead of punishment, use behaviour modification techniques to help change the behaviours. Do not shut your dog into a crate when he is terrified. He will thrash and try to chew his way out of the crate and he will learn to associate the crate with the unpleasant feeling of being terrified. Do not over coddle the dog. You can speak soothingly to the dog and set the dog up for as much success as you can but becoming over wrought and emotionally enmeshed with your dog’s fear is not helpful to your dog. It only serves to reinforce the fears he already has. Instead, try to be as calm as you can. Try and show your dog that there is nothing for him to be concerned about. If you are calm then it helps your dog to be calmer too. There are no guarantees that a dog’s fears can be totally eliminated but very often their fear can be very effectively managed with information and lots of good tools. As always, we welcome your questions, comment, and stories regarding this topic. When we share our stories we may well be helping someone who is struggling with their Snow Dog. Helping all Snow Dogs … one owner at a time.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for posting this. Our family adopted a beautiful black Siberian Husky (Kenobi), almost a year ago. He was almost 4 years old at the time. The previous family was about to take him to an amimal rescue when we got him. It is TOTALLY beyond me how they could consider taking him to a rescue. He’s beautiful, sweet, gentle, funny….and the most well behaved dog I have ever had. I’m SO thankful he’s with us now.
    My problem is this…..we live in Northwest Georgia. We start having thunderstorms around April of every year. This year, like most other places, we’re just now starting to get more. Last week, we had our first loud thunderstorm and I found out for the first time that Kenobi is TERRIFIED of storms. With the first clap of thunder, (at 5 A.M), he dove onto our bed & tried to burrow under my pillow. He trembled and painted for over half an hour until the thunder passed. We haven’t had any more storms since then. But, are supposed to have some later today. I’m already hearing a light rumble. Kenobi has acted a little lethargic since early yesterday. He has been drinking his water and (reluctantly) eating. But, hasn’t seemed interested in his favorite treats. And, normally, he starts running through the house and jumping around if he hears the word “outside”, or sees his leash. This morning, my husband took him out. After relieving himself, he looked up at the sky and ran to the back door. He has been inside all day and won’t budge when I ask if he wants to go out. I’ve been talking to him and giving him extra belly rubs all day. But, I was getting worried that maybe he wasn’t feeling well. It didn’t even occur to me that he could sense the storms coming. I’m trying to stay calm and happy around him. But, at the same time, I’m reluctant to leave him home alone for more than a couple if minutes. I don’t want him to be that scared again and go through it alone. Thank you. Your advice has helped to relieve my mind.

  2. My husky has never had a problem with noise. She has been to several WW2 re-enactment events with me now and just lays down and often sleeps through the pyros and noise. She loves the crowds of people too and isnt phased by anything. However i have a young staffie who isnt so much frightened but noiswy when there are sudden outside noises. Im hoping that by staying calm myself and my huskys calm behaviour will help him get used to sudden noise such as fireworks. So far this does seem to be working, he doesnt get upset or anxious, just likes to shout back at the noise haha

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