Why is my Dog Afraid of Thunder and/or Fireworks?

Dr. Crumley

By: John Crumley, DVM

Adverse reactions to thunderstorms and fireworks are understandable since dogs don’t understand the origins of the noises. Loud and foreign noises from overhead are difficult to orient to and can cause panic and anxiety. While many dogs get accustomed to storms, others may become even more sensitive, resulting in additional fear with each exposure. The degree of anxiety is based on a dog’s perception of a threat. When a dog’s response to thunderstorms is extreme, it is considered a phobia.

Dogs may show a variety of anxiety signs during or before a thunderstorm: panting, trembling, hiding, pacing, vocalizing, being destructive, and attempts to escape. Many dogs are found lost after a storm and/or fireworks because they are scared and escaped from a yard or a kennel.

hiding puppy    Dogs may try to hide during a thunderstorm or firework display. This is understandably a normal response. If your dog seems agitated or restless, you may be able to assist by securing a safe haven and help him/her relax during storms. This safe location should be readily available, especially when no one is home. You can try to limit exposure to the overwhelming and fear-evoking elements of a storm or fireworks by closing doors and windows. White noise or music can block out the sounds as well. You can also redirect your dog with obedience exercises and other fun activities (agility or food puzzle toys).

Recordings of thunderstorm sounds may be played and you can associate them with pleasant outcomes. Programs such as Sounds Scary® offer gradual and positive exposure to noises in a non-threatening manner; this method is known as desensitization/counter conditioning. Rehearsing a safe haven routine or redirection strategies while listening to recordings of storm noises will prepare your dog for more imposing threats. Try not to show your own anxiety during storms to avoid making your dog’s anxiety worse. If your dog’s anxiety is minimal and recovery is quick, it may be appropriate for you to ignore the anxious behavior and allow a natural adaptation to storms or fireworks (habituation). Ignoring severe anxiety or extreme displays is not a good idea and may be confusing and could even make the anxiety worse. If the anxiety persists, seems extreme or your pet is at risk for self injury, medications should be considered.

Dogs with severe anxiety may benefit from long-term management wdog-take-ibuprofenith anxiolytic medications plus rapidly-acting anxiolytics that may be given immediately prior to or even during an event. Dogs with a more mild anxiety may require only the rapidly-acting anxiolytics given immediately prior an event.