We all have heard at least one dog fireworks horror story. A dog, scared of fireworks, panics, gets out of the yard or pulls the leash from the owner’s hand, and gets lost or hit by a car.
Any dog scared of fireworks or thunderstorms is at high risk of a tragic event. Dogs with noise anxiety are miserable during fireworks, keep you up at night, may be destructive, and can’t be calmed when fireworks are going off. Worse yet, some are injured or killed as a result of their panicky reaction. Dogs and fireworks are just not a good mix.
The number of natural remedies and desensitization methods available is heartening; stories abound of fireworks fear abating when one or more of the remedies discussed below is used.
If your dog is also afraid of thunderstorms, be sure to read about natural remedies for dogs afraid of thunder. You will find that certain natural remedies in that article are specific to fear displayed during thunderstorms.
If your dog is also afraid of fireworks, their fear is most likely triggered by loud noises. Read on to discover a multitude of ways you can help minimize or eliminate your dog’s fireworks anxiety.
Before we start talking about remedies for any dog scared of fireworks, let’s talk about common sense safety precautions.
Fireworks don’t only happen on the evening of July 4th. People set them off days before and after the holiday.
Because of this, you need to take the following precautions to be sure you keep your dog safe if a firework is set off when you are outside walking your dog, or your dog is outside in the yard.
- Make sure your dog has current ID tags on his collar with your cell phone number and address.
- Check your dog’s collar to make sure it fits properly – if it has gradually loosened over time a panicked dog can easily slip out of it.
- If your dog is afraid of fireworks, have them wear a harness the week before and after July 4th. Attach an extra ID tag to the harness. Harnesses are harder to squeeze out of if the dog becomes frightened.
- Keep the harness on even when the dog is in the house. Countless dogs get loose during fireworks by bolting out the door when someone enters or exits or by breaking through a screen.
- Take a current picture of your dog. If your dog gets loose you will have a current and close up picture ready to distribute.
What Natural Ways Can I Help Calm a Dog Scared of Fireworks?
Important Disclaimer: I am not a vet. Not even close! My degree is in marketing. My goal is to share my own personal experience and information I have gathered; not to give medical advice.
If you think you want to try something you read about here, talk to your vet! But first read this and many more articles to empower yourself for a good discussion in which you can ask your vet great questions about what you want to try.
Knowledge is power – never forget that!
Counterconditioning and Desensitization
This is a training method that focuses on changing our dog’s emotional response to hearing a loud noise such as fireworks or thunder. Patricia McConnell tells wonderful stories of counterconditioning her dogs to loud noises, you will laugh as you picture her lying on the floor at 2 in the morning trying to clear her foggy head and counter condition her dog to thunderclaps with treats every time it thunders.
The gist of this method is:
- Find a place where the noise is somewhat muffled/softer (basements are a good start)
- If you can’t find a quiet place, try and get a recording of the noise and go to a room with multiple speakers so the sound seems to come from all over (but can be controlled by the volume knob)
- Use a high value treat (even medium value won’t cut it). Think moist, yummy, and smelly treats.
- If your dog is not treat motivated, or loves to play, throw a toy or ball instead
- When you hear the firework, say “Yay! Fireworks!” and give the dog a treat or throw the toy
- If it gets too loud or overwhelming and your dog is distracted by food or play, put the treats away and just give belly rubs and comfort, turn on some calming music, and try again another time.
That said, you don’t get a lot of opportunities to practice firework desensitization to get your dog comfortable with the sound. Enter Victoria Stilwell and her Noise Phobia Firework Sound CD:
Stilwell has produced a set of Canine Phobia Series CDs that includes a fireworks recording. Begin by playing them at a low volume, paired with your dog’s favorite treats or games. The goal is to gradually increase your dog’s ability to remain calm and happy during the recordings. When July 4th arrives, they will be more prepared to cope.
This training method will be beneficial for almost any dog scared of fireworks. At the very least, it will make their reaction less severe and you can combine this with another natural treatment that will calm your dog even more.
If you plan to try this, learn more about a training method Jean Donaldson calls open bar closed bar dog training (i.e. desensitization and counterconditioning) to ensure your timing is correct and your training is successful.
**Note: this post contains affiliate links. No one paid me to recommend these products, I recommend them because I like them. By using the link to buy the products you are helping support happyynaturaldog.com**
Valerian is an herb known for relieving tension and anxiety. You can purchase it in capsule form, as a dried root, or as a tincture.
Tinctures are generally faster acting, but many contain alcohol which some prefer not to give to their dogs. Capsules can be very potent, and dried roots contain the full spectrum of the herb. So – each has its benefits.
An article in Whole Dog Journal by CJ Puotinen talks about a combination herbal product made by herbalist Lisa Walk. She combines valerian and skullcap for dogs with thunder phobias and has had excellent luck. Lisa mentions that extreme fear can override the herb’s effects so dosage is higher than usual for herbal tinctures.
It’s important to make sure you use a quality brand from a company that tests its products in an independent lab. Testing valerian is complex; you can read about what valerian content tests look for here.
Melatonin is a hormone found in the body that naturally increases in the bloodstream when dogs sleep. Giving it to your dog before fireworks start can help calm them and make them sleepier.
It’s important to read the ingredients of any melatonin before giving it to your dog; some may contain xylitol or other ingredients that are toxic to dogs.
Essential oils can help your dog relax and feel calmer as well. The scent of lavender, for example, reduces the body’s production of cortisol (a stress hormone). Valerian is known to calm the mind and ease stress.
It’s important not to put essential oils directly on your dog. Some dogs have sensitive skin, while others may be too sensitive to the scent. Using a clip-on diffuser charm like the one below allows you to remove it if the dog doesn’t like it, or if you don’t need it anymore.
You can also put the essential oil in a room diffuser.
I hear a lot of stories about CBD oil helping dogs with a variety of issues.
That said, I hear a lot of worried vets talk about the fact that the CBD oil industry is completely unregulated. The oil you buy may say it’s THC free and claim a certain strength of CBD, but many tested oils show unacceptable THC levels and inconsistent CBD levels.
If you are interested in trying CBD oil for your dog’s fireworks anxiety, educate yourself about the product.
CBD (cannabidiol) oil comes from the cannabis sativa plant. Cannabis plants contain over 480 separate components including 66 (some say 80) which are classified as cannabinoids, including THC (the psychoactive component), as well as CBD, CBN, and other medically beneficial components.
CBD oil come in two forms: full spectrum or CBD isolate. A CBD isolate means that the CBD molecule is isolated from the other cannabinoids. An isolate will not contain any of the other beneficial cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.
Some of the benefits of the various cannabinoids are
- Sedative effect
- Anti-inflammatory (see article about natural remedies for arthritis in dogs)
- Nausea relief
- and more!
Buying a full-spectrum oil allows components to work in unison, increasing the oil’s benefits. A full spectrum oil must contain <3% of THC, so will not produce psychotropic effects (the “high” feeling).
CBD oil can be extracted in different ways:
- Solvent: This extraction involves using ethanol, propane, butane, isopropyl, or alcohol to extract the CBD. It is one of the least expensive methods, but unfortunately if not completed correctly leaves traces of the solvents in the CBD oil.
- Olive Oil: This is the oldest method of extraction and is very safe. The downside is that it is very perishable, so is not good for production facilities.
- CO2 is the most advanced method of extraction. It results in a potent and safe CBD oil, keeps the highest amount of beneficial elements of the plant, and has a much lower chance of having contaminants in the final product.
Because quality control is not mandated, it is import to find a high quality, well-established manufacturer of CBD oil that has been in business a respectable amount of time. You will want to ask questions like:
- Does the company have an independent lab do testing? What do they test for? (You want to see them testing for cannabinoids, THC, terpenes, and contaminants). You want them to be testing to be sure the good components are in the oil, and the bad components aren’t.
- Where is their CBD sourced from? Is it organically grown? GMO free?
- Is their CBD oil full spectrum or is it a CBD isolate?
- How is the oil CO2 extracted?
- How long have they been in business? Look them up on the Better Business Bureau website.
When I decided to try CBD for one of my animals with severe allergies, the animal nutritionist I was working with recommended Lidke CBD Oil. I did my homework and found out that they have been registered with the BBB since 2006, source their products sustainably and organically, and are talked about in independent reviews for their high quality.
When administering CBD oil, you can give it to your dog orally or add it to their food.
I read a great testimonial about the successful use of homeopathic remedies for fireworks and thunderstorms by Kelly Winters of Primally Inspired. Her dog, Bently, was absolutely terrified of fireworks and thunderstorms. She had tried a number of natural remedies with no luck, then tried phosphorus 30C, a common homeopathic remedy for fear of thunderstorms.
Within minutes Bently stopped shaking and pacing, lay down, and went to sleep. Wow.
Dana Scott of Dogs Naturally lists these common homeopathic remedies for a dog’s fear of loud noises:
Phosphorus 30c This remedy is good for all noise phobias. It can be given once or twice a day.
Borax 6c This remedy is specific for fears of thunderstorms and can be given twice a day.
Aconite 30c This remedy addresses fear in general and can be given every fifteen minutes during a storm. Continue only until you see improvement. If you do not see improvement, try another remedy.
Aurum Metallicaum 30c may also be given once or twice a day to combat most noise sensitivities.
The easiest way to give homeopathic pellets to your dog is by mixing them with filtered water. Put 3 pellets (don’t touch them with your hands!) in a glass (not plastic) cup or bowl and add a little filtered water. Stir with a metal spoon (not plastic) until dissolved or let sit for about 5 minutes. Use a clean dropper to squirt ¼ teaspoon in their mouth, or you can give your dog a few spoonfuls.
Refrigerated, this remedy should last around 2 weeks.
Note: once the dropper has touched the dog’s mouth don’t put it back in the homeopathic solution without washing it first.
Your dog shouldn’t eat or drink 20 minutes before and after the dose is given.
Kelly states that Bently needs 1 or 2 doses about 15 minutes apart when he is anxious and that lasts him a few hours. If your dog is struggling you can continue to dose every 15 minutes until their anxiety starts to decrease.
Flower remedies, or flower essences, are infusions made from the flowering part of a plant that are used to address issues of emotional well-being and mind-body health.
One of the most well known flower remedies is Rescue Remedy. Rescue Remedy is a blend of 5 different wildflowers: rock rose, impatiens, clematis, star-of-Bethlehem, and cherry plum. It can be given every 15 minutes until your dog starts to calm down.
Just add 2-3 drops directly to your dog’s tongue. You can also add it to their water bowl, or apply it to the skin on their paws or ears. Just be careful not to touch the glass dropper to the dog’s mouth or body.
CJ Puotinen’s Whole Dog Journal article (link in Valerian section) tells another story in which Wisconsin dog trainer Kathy Edstrom combined Aspen, Mimulus, and Rock Rose in equal parts for her dogs, and was amazed to see that after two weeks of starting the combination her dogs were no longer afraid of thunder.
Edstrom tells another story of a Belgian Tervuren who was terrified of thunder and loud noises. This case highlights the importance of correct application. The owner initially reported only slight improvement, but Edstrom discovered he was giving only one dose a day on a dog biscuit. As soon as he placed the drops into the dog’s mouth three or four times a day, the dog’s behavior changed dramatically; he now remains calm and focused when thunderstorms and fireworks occur.
The thundershirt is a product that has had a lot of success calming anxious dogs. The shirt wraps around the dog and velcros shut, “hugging” the dog’s body and giving them a secure feeling. Some refer to it as an “anxiety wrap.”
Many people will combine the thundershirt with other methods.
Mutt Muff Headphones
Mutt Muffs are noise-reducing headphones that were developed to protect a dog’s hearing when it is in a small airplane. They are not noise canceling, but many reviewers state that the headphones muffled the sounds of fireworks enough that their dog was able to calm down and go to sleep!
I would think something like this, combined with the thundershirt or a thunderstorm safe room (see next section), has real potential.
Create a Safe Room
Moose, my rescue dog scared of fireworks and thunderstorms, would come and get me whenever the noises started so I would take him to his safe spot.
When I first adopted him at age 9, he would wake me up if it thundered at night and keep me up, pacing the room, jumping on and off the bed, and eventually jumping on the bed and (not kidding here) sitting smack on top of my head.
One night when I was particularly desperate for sleep, I took him down in our basement. Once there, I broke down a cardboard box and smushed it into the window frame so it blocked out any lightning flashes. Then I turned on a slow rock radio station to create some “white noise,” and turned the volume up. The basement muffled the sudden noises, and Moose, free from the lightening (now associated with the following thunder) and hearing less of the thunder, lay down and went to sleep.
He began to associate the basement as a safe spot from the sudden bangs, and it became his “woobie” of choice. Every year on July 4th we would prop open the basement door and get the music turned on, and if someone started lighting off fireworks he would go down there and go to sleep.
If a thunderstorm started during the night, I would wake up to find his cold wet nose 2 millimeters from my face with big eyes conveying the urgent need for me to take him to his basement safe spot. If I was sleeping deeply, he would execute plan B knowing that sitting on my face as I slept was guaranteed to wake me up.
I would open the bedroom door and he would trot down to the basement as fast as he could, wait for me to stumble down, put the cardboard in the window, and start the music, then he would flop down on the floor and resume his slumbers.
In a 2012 study published in The Journal of Veterinary Behavior, researches from Colorado State University monitored activity levels, vocalization, and body shaking of 117 kenneled dogs while playing different varieties of music: classical, heavy metal, an altered type of classical, and no music at all.
The dogs slept the most while listening to all types of classical music, indicating it helped them relax.
Another study looked at psychoacoustically designed music – music arranged according to psychoacoustic principles with the goal of reducing specific anxiety behaviors in dogs such as fear of separation, thunderstorms, and fireworks.
“Results showed 70 percent of anxiety behaviors were reduced with psychoacoustically designed music, while 36 percent of anxiety behaviors were reduced with the non-psychoacoustic control CD. Both CDs calmed the dogs enough to make them lie down. However, it appears that the psychoacoustically designed music, with slower tempo and simpler arrangements and sounds, is more effective in reducing anxiety.”
Through a Dog’s Ear is the psychoacoustically designed music that was tested and achieved a 70% reduction of anxiety behaviors. First, play the music when there are no fireworks (or thunder), at a time when the dog is feeling relaxed and peaceful. They will then begin to associate the music with being calm and content.
Then, a couple of hours before fireworks are to begin (or before the thunderstorm rolls in), start the music and continue it until after the fireworks end.
Common Sense Tips:
Get Some Exercise in the Morning
During the week before and after July 4th, get out first thing in the morning and take a long walk. A tired dog is going to do better emotionally when the noise starts.
If you get angry or frustrated at your dog, they will only feel more upset and anxious. When fireworks start, a calm voice and loving demeanor will help your dog. Calmly use whatever tools you have chosen from the above list and be patient with your dog – it’s no fun to be scared and they need to feel secure and loved.
Don’t Leave Your Dog Outside Alone
For July 4th and the days around it, don’t leave your dog outside alone. A scared dog can jump a fence and be long gone before you even realize anything has happened.
Natural Relief for a Dog Scared of Fireworks
Fireworks and dogs are a tough issue. Helping a dog scared of fireworks by using a natural approach is a lot like other natural remedies: you have to use a lot of trial and error to find the natural approach that works best for your dog.
Once you do, the positive effects last a lifetime.
Is your dog scared of fireworks? What worked? Share in the comments below and help other readers put an end to July 4th firework misery for their faithful companions.
Until next time-
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