Questions about Dogs and Fireworks

I’m feeling very blessed this morning. Absolutely no one in our household is frightened of fireworks.

Unfortunately, many of our friends can’t say the same.

I’m left with lots of questions. And some ill-informed speculations. Wanna hear them?
 

A Rhodesian Ridgeback and Vizsla admire the fireworks.

A Rhodesian Ridgeback and Vizsla admiring the fireworks. Of course, they’re gun dogs.


 

My Questions (and Answers?) About Dogs and Fireworks

Why isn’t Honey afraid of fireworks?

Pick any or all of the three:

  • Dumb luck.
  • Mild spring thunderstorms when she was 10 weeks old helped to habituate her to loud noises. I remember her looking at me the first time she heard thunder. Luckily I don’t startle easily and had no reaction. She put her head back down and relaxed.
  • Because Golden Retrievers were originally bred to be gun dogs; it’s part of her genetic heritage.

Why is it that some dogs who freak out at fireworks have no reaction to recordings of fireworks?

YouTube has tons of recorded fireworks you can play at low volume in the background when your dog is relaxed to teach him that boomers are no threat.

But according to the comments, many dogs have no reaction to these recorded sounds.

Most of us don’t have good enough speakers to reproduce the sound and the feeling of actual fireworks.

Remember how you feel those huge booms in your chest? I don’t think we can duplicate that at home.

But one trainer had a good idea—use your local outdoor shooting range for training. We have several “sportsmen’s” clubs in our area. If Honey were afraid of loud noises, I’d start finding spots for training that are far enough from the club to barely hear the gunfire and slowly work our way closer.

Can any dog lose their fear of fireworks with good training?

I definitely think it’s worth trying to train your dog to accept loud noises.

If Honey were afraid, I’d have to. We have fireworks three times a year—for Cornell graduation, Ithaca College graduation, and Independence Day week.

But I don’t believe every dog can get over their fear no matter how good a trainer you are. It’s why the excellent (free) e-book, Help Your Dog Cope With Fireworks, devotes a lot of space to management skills when you can’t teach your dog not to be afraid.
 

Honey the Golden Retriever rides in a kayak.

I know you watch the fireworks from your kayaks on the lake. Why don’t you take me along?


 

Is there any way I can help my friends with fireworks phobic dogs cope?

No, probably not.

But I can tell you how awesome you are for respecting your dogs’ fears and for caring enough about them to want to give them to feel comfortable.

While checking out fireworks resources online, I came across a training exercise where people (mostly men, interestingly enough) held their dogs (mostly German Shepherds, also interesting) down by the collar while the trainer set off firecrackers on the ground. No link. It was terrible and abusive.

Those poor dogs. They’ve learned that not only is the world a scary place but that they can’t trust their people to protect them from it.

So if you spent your Fourth of July cuddling your dog in the basement with the radio going and a few fans turned on, good for you. You’ve shown as much loyalty to your dog as she has always shown you.

Your Turn: How does your dog cope with Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve, Guy Fawkes Day, Chinese New Year or other fireworks holidays? If your dog is calm, do you know why?

 
photo credit: Dogs looking at fireworks. Maufdi via photopin cc. Click image to learn more about the photographer.

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Comments

  1. I’m glad Honey did well with all the festivities. My dogs did okay too. It sounded like a war zone outside, but Maya and Pierson slept right through it. There was one quick potty break outside where Maya looked in the direct of the sound and seemed curious about the bright lights in the sky. But it was idle curiosity only. I think the fact that Maya is a Lab and also a gun dog has something to do with it. I remember Pierson being a little afraid last year. But when he saw Maya wasn’t worried, he decided not to be worried. I didn’t notice any fear in him at all this year. Just another day.

  2. Nice to hear Honey was not bothered by the fireworks. Pip never has been but Molly hates anything loud and hides. Have a fabulous Friday.
    Best wishes Molly

  3. Happy to say that neither jack or Maggie were affected and slept through it all. I even posted a picture of Maggie on our FB page since I was nervous about her reaction given her fearfulness. Maybe it’s a Lab thing like Honey…I’m just glad she was fine. The only thing Jack has ever reacted to was low flying jets – and he’s just barked at them. Luckily we don’t get them too often.

  4. Sue @ The Golden Life says:

    Glad Honey isn’t afraid of the fireworks! Callie was a little nervous, but not as anxious as I had expected. Shadow ignored the noise until one of the screamers startled her outside and sent her running to the porch door. Callie turned and started pulling me to the door — she was on her leash. Ducky was inside, hiding under the end table. But she came out to play when I sat on the floor and coaxed her.

  5. My sister is terrified of them and also of gun noise. Luckily she is happy to just go hang out in the upstairs bathroom and does not flip out or become destructive. Mom had her around fireworks and stuff as a puppy and it was never an issue but as she got older it just developed, no idea why. I have never cared about noise, Mom hopes that I stay that way!

  6. Everyone did really well this year. Sadie did her “have to be attached to Mom’s hip like glue” thing late afternoon when some of the really loud bangs went off. Like Honey, Hurley has zero reaction to them and I think he’s helped the girls stay calm. I did give them some calming stuff with dinner but they were so relaxed (and we were watching TV loudly) that I forgot to give them their frozen Kongs when it really got loud. I don’t think Sadie will ever be 100% stress-free but so long as she has me & Hurley to show her it’s no big deal (and an available hip to glue to), she seems to be getting a lot more relaxed about the whole affair. Maggie was awesome. She barely showed any stress at all!

  7. We live close (as the crow flies) to Sea World, and they (annoyingly!) have fireworks every night in the summer. I think it has helped Rita to do used to the noise. We raced home last night from a family shindig to be with her while the fireworks went off (since there are about 7 displays w/in hearing distance from our house – quite a bit noisier than the nightly SW display), but she did great. She barked a bit when the really “rat-a-tat”-y ones sounded, but other than that she was fine. (Amazing since she’s usually on such high alert!)

  8. My dogs aren’t afraid of fireworks, fortunately. The young ones were starting to get in the habit of barking like crazy everytime they heard fireworks. So I took each one outside, individually, and sat with them on the front steps, while a distant neighbor was setting off somefireworks. Each collie watched the fireworks for a minute or two, learned what was making the noise, and then went back inside. Since then, none of them have paid any attention to the noise at all. I think it was the not knowing what was going on that was the root of the problem.

    Of course this wouldn’t work with a dog that was fearful of fireworks. I would never subject a frightened dog to this, that could result in them becoming even more afraid.

  9. I was born in a horse stable and it is also a hunting club so at an early age I got used to loud noises. We live by a golf course too and every weekend they have mini fireworks (especially if there’s a party). It really depends … mom says I still get scared. We shared on our Monday’s posts ways mom makes me comfortable. Last night our neighbor even had fireworks. I munched on an elk antlers and was not bothered by any noises going on. LOVE Honey’s photo on the Kayak. Lots of Golden woofs, Sugar

  10. Bella’s a LOT better with fireworks than she is with thunder. The fact that we can distract her from it with treats (as long as she’s wearing her Thundershirt) speaks to that. Still, we have a lake nearby that hosts the town’s 4th of July display and for that, we do take to the basement where she remains completely unphased. I’m more worried about the local dingdongs who set them off illegally and without regard to the trees and potential fire hazards we have here.

    Interesting thoughts about gun dogs as my Lab, Beau, was quite oblivious to fireworks and thunderstorms as well. Could be a thing.

    • Not surprised that fireworks and thunderstorms aren’t equal. For one thing, thunderstorms aren’t as predictable.

      But studies have shown that dogs may be reacting more to static electricity in the air than to the noise of a storm per se. That’s why some dogs feel comfort in the tub. The cast iron lessens the static.

      I wonder if getting a static pad from an office supply store would actually help a dog through a thunderstorm?

      Anyway, glad you and Bella made it through last night.

      • Actually, Bella wears a “Storm Defender” cape for thunderstorms. It is built on the premise of static electricity being what dogs are really reacting to during storms and has an anti-static lining as such.

  11. Flash was shot in the shoulder when he was young (before he was our dog), and I don’t imagine any amount of training will change either his or Patches’ minds. They don’t like even loud snapping noises. Patches spent the night in the tub, and Flash jumped in bed with me, like glue to my side. Every year.

  12. I am not afraid of fireworks. We always thought maybe it was similar to lightning and thunder because I am not afraid of those either (thank dog, since we live in South Florida and our lightning and thunderstorms are HUGE). Though now that you mention the static electricity in the air, that has me thinking. I’m not too keen when the lightning comes down right near our house – I will bark once or twice at that. At such proximity, maybe it is the static charge from the lightning though I still have no reaction to fireworks.

    Gosh, Kimberly…you are always making us think and keeping us on our toes! Oh, and congratulations on your Petties nomination as well as your Influential Pet Blogger nomination. (I did make it to the Petties finals for Funniest Blog. I’m so happy!)

    Have a wonderful weekend.
    Oz (and Gina)

  13. LittleBear, who was a red/red boar, was afraid of thunderstorms and fireworks.
    Austin, who has basically the same coat, is afraid of thunderstorms and fireworks.
    Li’l Girl, a dapple black & tan, is neither afraid of thunderstorms or fireworks. She can and will sleep right through them.
    All three were/are rescues, so we don’t know what kind of experiences they had with loud noises as puppies. We just find it funny (not funny haha) that the two reds share the boom anxiety, while our dapple has none. It’s highly likely that we’ll have more rescues in the future, so it will be interesting to see if the pattern continues.

  14. When I was a kid, my best friend’s parents got divorced, and we got their Vizsla. She was a trained hunting dog, and my best friend’s father still came by and took her hunting about once a year. Still, she could not be in the house when fireworks (or model rockets) were being set off. Not so much because she was afraid but because she got so excited, thinking she was going to get to go hunting, she would piddle from excitement as soon as she heard the boom.

  15. I get a big container of small cookies and start tossing pieces every few seconds. Soon I have two adoring fans on the bed with me, staring at me lovingly, oblivious to the noise. After the first few minutes I can greatly reduce the frequency of tossing, and I move in slow motion to build anticipation and then flick the cookies quickly to keep them focused. We don’t get thunder very often, but I do the same think, to the same good results, when we do.

  16. I’m not worried by fireworks. I think it’s a combination of natural confidence and the way my first experience of them was handled. Our cats are fairly relaxed about them as well.

  17. For some reason this year was the first year Monty reacted. We think it is because it is the first year he didn’t have his crate – we didn’t realize it is such a huge part of his security and sanity.

    Sam

  18. Misty carries a little calendar around starting July 1 and explains to the dogs about the unfair tax on tea and how that led to insurrection in the colonies. Somehow she equates this to the noise on the 4th day of the month. It seems to work.

  19. Tavish and I abandoned our party guests at 9:30 so that he could hide under our bed while the fireworks went off. I figure that if they’re going to be friends with me, they should understand that the pups come first! :)

    I am hoping to work on his thunder and fireworks phobia, but I have a feeling it will be slow going. We’ll keep trying though.

  20. I don’t mind thunderstorms myself which I think passed on to Sampson. Without knowing Delilah’s background we can’t be sure, but it would seem she’d been exposed to loud noises too as she handles them fairly well. She did take issue with the microwave popping corn but a few nights of me tossing treats and she handles that like a pro.

    Sampson will bark sometimes at the fireworks in the street and she will usually run after him to join. He will also bark at the sky if it produces a HUGE clap of thunder. I usually let them have their say and then calmly tell them it’s okay and bring them inside. If it persists, then I shut the door and turn on some noise and they seem to handle it fairly well.