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Firework Aversion in Dogs: Firsthand Account

Fireworks are a source of joy and celebration for many but for our dogs, they can be a

source of fear and anxiety. This is true for one of our own pups, Severus, our male

German Shepherd Dog. His aversion surfaced during 2020 and it has increased in

severity over the years. During our journey of helping him we tried behavior

modification, over the counter CBD, calming chews, and even diet changes. We had a

little improvement but with the thunderstorm and hurricane seasons here in Florida and

an increase of fireworks use in a new neighborhood we were at a standstill. In 2022 we

reached out to a behavior veterinarian in our area for help. Our meeting and exam went

well and we had a new plan. With the addition of prescription medications and our

continued counter conditioning and desensitization training we are at a better place in

2024!


With the availability of fireworks and increased personal usage, we are seeing more and

more dogs with noise aversion. The loud noises, bright lights, and unpredictability of

fireworks can be overwhelming for dogs; leading to increased stress and anxiety.

Working to understand firework aversion in dogs and knowing how to manage it is

crucial for ensuring your pups well-being during festive events. Continue reading on for

making these stressful booms and bangs a better experience for everyone involved.



Fireworks
Fireworks we have for desensitization and counter conditioning training


Causes of Firework Aversion


Noise aversions are quite common, with an estimated 1/3 of the canine population

affected. As a young puppy Severus did not show any aversion to loud sounds,

fireworks or storms. But during adolescence at the age of 2 he had a frightening

experience outside with a large and very loud firework in the mid-afternoon. We did lots

of counter conditioning and play during loud fireworks and thunderstorms after that and

he didn't act fearful around loud noises. During 2020 our neighborhood loved

celebrating all holidays with fireworks which triggered our previous negative experience,

and his fear behaviors returned.


Noise Sensitivity:

Dogs have more sensitive hearing than humans, dogs can hear

sounds four times further away than humans. This increased ability can make loud

noises like fireworks particularly distressing for them.


Fear of the Unknown:

Dogs thrive on routine and predictability. The sudden onset of

fireworks can be frightening due to their unpredictability. Rapid repeated light flashes

and bangs are very unnerving to many dogs because they cannot pinpoint the source.


Previous Experiences:

Dogs that have had negative experiences with loud noises or

fireworks in the past are more likely to develop a fear response. This can include a

onetime negative experience or repeated stressful exposures.


Lack of Exposure:

Puppies that have not been exposed to loud noises during their

critical socialization period may develop a fear of fireworks later in life.


Sensory Overload:

The combination of loud noises, bright lights, and unfamiliar smells

can create a sensory overload for dogs, leading to anxiety.


Genetics:

Genetics have been suggested as a cause for noise aversion. Several studies

have been done with pointers and herding breeds and found the involvement of multiple

genes. Knowing your dog’s breeds and parentage is important for knowing if your dog

may be predisposed to noise aversion.


Medical conditions:

Medical conditions such as pain can also contribute to noise

sensitivity in dogs. Senior dogs can have arthritis which can cause pain, sudden jumps

or movements during fireworks can cause the dog to jump into uncomfortable positions.

Older dog may also experience partial hearing loss that can change their perception of

sounds and add to a fear response to sudden loud noises.



Mini Australian Shepherd wearing a thundershirt
Birdie Modeling her personalized ThunderShirt


Signs of Firework Aversion


It is important for dog owners to recognize the signs of stress and anxiety in their dogs

due to firework aversion. With Severus, his biggest sign of stress fireworks is

vocalization and restlessness. He becomes agitated and barks with every firework

bang. Dogs use their body to communicate their feelings, learning to read dog body

language is important to help them with their fears and anxiety.


Common signs of stress include:

- Trembling or shaking

- Excessive panting

- Pacing or restlessness

- Hiding or seeking comfort

- Excessive barking or howling

- Destructive behavior

- Loss of appetite

- Inappropriate urination or defecation




Managing Firework Aversion


Create a Safe Space:

Set up a safe, comfortable space for your dog to retreat to during

fireworks. This could be a quiet room with their favorite toys, blankets, and bedding.

Lots of dogs seek out basements, bathrooms or closets during this time, the close

quarters make them feel safer. You can also use a ThunderShirt, ThunderEase spray or plug ins and hearing protection for dogs. These items can be useful to help create a safe area for your pups.


Soundproofing:

Use a box fan, white noise machines or play calming music to drown

out the sound of fireworks. There are also muffs that dogs can wear; these haven’t been

studied or proven but have anecdotally been said to help.


Avoid Exposure:

Whenever possible, avoid exposing your dog to fireworks. Keep them

indoors during fireworks displays, change your schedule on nights that fireworks will

happen so your dog is inside before the festivities. Consider putting a leash and

harness for added security during potty breaks, even if your yard is completely fenced.


Behavior Modification:

A desensitization training program to loud noises can help

reduce fear over time. The training would start with low-level noise recordings and

gradually increase the volume as your dog becomes more comfortable. Some training

requires the help of a trainer.


Anxiety Medication:

In some cases, your primary veterinarian may prescribe medication

to help manage your dog's anxiety during fireworks. Medication should be used in

conjunction with a training program, alone it isn’t a fix for anxiety.


Professional Help:

If your dog's firework aversion needs training and or a specialized

medication plan you should consider seeking help from a professional dog trainer or a

veterinary behaviorist. These professionals can provide specialized training and support

for you and your pup. To find professionals near you https://avsab.org/



ThunderEase, ThunderShirt, Toppls
Our Safe Space includes these items!


Conclusion


Firework aversion in dogs is a common issue that can cause distress for our furry

friends. By understanding the causes and signs of firework aversion, as well as

implementing management strategies, dog owners can help their pets feel more

comfortable and safer during fireworks displays. For Severus we have used a

combination of veterinary intervention, medication, training and management

techniques. He has more work to do and with our support his fear and anxiety is greatly

decreased. Remember, each dog is unique, so what works for one dog may not work for

another. Patience, understanding, and a proactive approach are key to helping your dog

cope with firework aversion.



Sources


Harris Poll: Custom Motion Sickness and Noise Aversion Omnibus Pet Owner

Quantitative Research Report. December 2018.


Sherman BL, Mills DS. Canine anxiety and phobias: an update on separation anxiety

and Noise Aversions. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 2008;38:1081-1106.


Murphree O, Dykman R, Peters J. Genetically-determined abnormal behavior in dogs:

results of behavioural tests. Conditional Reflex 1967;2:199-205.


Overall KL. Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats. St Louis, MO:

Elsevier Mosby; 2013:256-261.


Shull-Selcer EA, Starr W. Advances in the understanding and treatment of noise

phobias. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 1991;21:353-367.

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