How to Keep Your Dog Calm During Fireworks
Updated: Nov 20, 2020
New Years Eve is coming up, and many festivities will include fireworks. If your dog gets scared during fireworks or thunderstorms, this post is for you. There are some quick and easy options that can help reduce their anxiety, but it will not absolve them of their fear. To see those options check out my last post about Keeping Your Dog Safe, Happy and Healthy During the Holidays.
An interactive toy - one you play with your dog, like a ball or tug
Your phone or computer
Step 1: Teach Basic Commands
The first step is to teach your dog sit and come. If your dog already knows these, great! You can skip this step. If they don't you will need to teach them the basics first. There are many tutorials out there on how to teach these two commands. They don't need to be advanced, just be able to hold a sit for about 30 seconds and come from the end of their leash. Any other commands that your dog knows can be used too.
Step 2: Start Playing Background Noise
The second step is to start desensitizing your dog to the sounds. Put them on a leash so that they can't run to the other room and hide. Put your phone on the lowest volume setting and play a video with firework or thunder noises. There are plenty to choose from, with some that are hours long. If your dog looks a little nervous at this sound, practice sit and come or any other commands your dog may know, giving them lots of treats and praise when they do what you ask. It is important to only give them the attention as a reward for obeying the command. Dogs are not the same as us and though it may be your instinct to pet them and talk soothingly to them, you should avoid doing so. What a dog understands from that interaction is that they are right to feel afraid and it just reinforces their fear. Instead, you want to show them that it is no big deal and you are just having a normal training session. It also gives them something to focus on other that the source of their fear. Keep working simple commands until they seem calm and relaxed.
Step 3: Big Reward for Being Calm
Once your dog can listen to the noise and remain calm and focused on you, it's time for a party. Bring out their toy for a game of tug or fetch, be excited and animated. What you are telling your dog is that being calm gets them playtime with their favorite human. Keep the video playing during play time. If your dog isn't one to play with toys, you can also give them high value treats, like a piece of chicken or if they are motivated by affection, give them lots of belly rubs and praise. If at any point during the celebration, your dog starts to get anxious again, remove the reward and go back to doing simple obedience.
Step 4: Turn Up the Volume
Once your dog is comfortable at the lowest volume, turn it up a little and repeat steps 2 and 3. It is important to work slowly. A big jump in volume can set your dog back, so be patient. Depending on your dogs level of anxiety, you may be able to do several volume changes in a session or it may take several sessions per volume level, or your dog may fall somewhere in between. Wherever your dog is, try to keep the sessions between 5-15 minutes and always end on a good note. Keep repeating steps 2 and 3 at higher volume until you reach the loudest your phone or computer will go.
Step 5: Introduce Some Real World Situations
The next step is to introduce your dog to some real world situations. Keep a look out for some places where there will be loud noises that might be scary for your dog. Some examples that you might be able to find are a lawnmower in your backyard, dropping pots and pans in the kitchen, construction areas, train tracks, or busy roads. First make sure your dog will be safe, so choose a place where you can put plenty of space between you and the source of the noise and keep your dog on a leash. Also make sure that if your dog spooks, they can't get out of their collar. Start however far from the noise you need to for your dog to remain calm. You are going to do basically the same thing as before except instead of turning up the volume, you are going to take a couple steps closer as your dog progresses. Once you get as close as is safe, choose another spot and another noise. Remember to still move at your dogs pace. You should find that at each new situation, your dog should be able to start a little closer and progress a little faster. Keep going until your dog seems unfazed by the noise when you encounter them. If it is a sudden, unexpected noise and your dog flinches or starts, that is OK as long as they settle down quickly.
Step 6: Get Ready For the Real Deal
When you know fireworks or a thunderstorm are going to happen, get your training tools ready. Fireworks and thunderstorms can cause pressure on their eardrums and that is hard to prepare for. Just like before, you are going to perform the same steps of working some basic commands until your dog calms down and then throw them a party. Once they realize that this is the same situation that they have done time and time again. They should settle down quickly.
If you only take away one piece of advice from this post, it should be this: be patient. Helping your dog overcome their fear and anxiety is not a quick process. So be patient and always move at your dogs pace. Work on it a little at a time and overall you will see your dogs anxiety and fear reduce. If you are having trouble on your own, contact a trainer to help you.