How to Calm Your Dog During Fireworks (and the 1 thing guaranteed NOT to work)

Dog scared during fireworks on the Fourth of July

Fireworks, hot dogs, and apple pie….

Many people love the Fourth of July – American Independence Day. But it’s often a tough day for dogs. The fireworks leave many dogs jittery and scared.

I have had dogs that don’t care about fireworks and ones that get completely freaked out. If you are a pet parent to the freak out type of dog then learning how to calm your dog during fireworks might be very helpful.

Why are Dogs Afraid of Fireworks?

  1. Fireworks are Unpredictable: Humans understand dates like the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve and can prepare for fireworks. For your pup they come out of nowhere and the noises don’t come at regular intervals. This makes them unpredictable and scary.
  2. Fireworks are Loud: While there are some quieter fireworks, most of them are really, really loud and since dogs hear better than humans these noises are very alarming.
  3. Fireworks are Perceived as a Threat: Mammals like predictability and things that seem unpredictable often trigger the fight, flight or freeze response.
  4. Fireworks may Make Your Dog Feel Trapped: If your dog tries to run away from the noise and can’t escape it, she may feel trapped.

Signs a Dog Is Scared of Fireworks

Scared puppy cowering under table

You can tell a dog is afraid of fireworks by observing his behavior. A dog that is feeling afraid will often show some or all of the following signs:

  • Trembling
  • Tail tucked
  • Withdrawal
  • Hiding
  • Passive escape behaviors
  • Reduced activity
  • Diarrhea
  • Licking
  • Biting at self
  • Whining
  • Excessive panting

If your dog shows these signs during fireworks displays then they are probably anxious and it’s time to take action.

The 1 Thing Guaranteed Not to Work to Ease Your Dog’s Fireworks Anxiety

Dog hiding under cabinet

Most of us talk to our dogs like they are people.

We might say…. “Hey Bambino, they’re are going to be fireworks this weekend, don’t you go pooping in the house like you did last year”.

That is 100% NOT going to work. And letting Bambino anywhere NEAR the fireworks is a terrible, no good and rotten idea.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything for your pup.

How do You Calm Down a Scared Dog?

person consoling scared dog

When it comes to fireworks, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

It’s MUCH better to prevent your dog from getting scared in the first place, than it is to try to treat anxiety and fear AFTER the fact.

Here is a comprehensive list of tips that the kennel club recommends:

Before the fireworks begin

  • Top up your dog’s water bowl. Anxious dogs pant more and get thirsty.
  • Feed your dog a while before you expect any disturbances. Once the fireworks start your dog may be too anxious to eat.
  • Walk your dog before dusk. It may be some time before it’s safe to venture outside again for your dog to relieve themselves. Always make sure that your garden is escape proof, just in case a firework goes off if you take them into the garden to go to the toilet.
  • Make sure you shut all doors and windows in your home and don’t forget to draw the curtains. This will block out any scary flashes of light and reduce the noise level of fireworks. Don’t forget to block off cat flaps to stop dogs (and cats) escaping.
  • Make a safe den for your dog to retreat to if they feel scared. Make sure to fill it with their favorite blankets, toys, or an item of unwashed clothing, as these may help them feel safe.

During the fireworks

  • Distract your dog from the noise by having the TV or the radio switched on.
  • Try to act and behave as normal, as your dog will pick up on any odd behaviour. Remain calm, happy and cheerful as this will send positive signals to your dog.
  • Your dog might choose to hide under the bed or behind furniture; if they come to you for comfort, make sure that you give it to them. Ignoring your dog would only make things worse as they wouldn’t understand your withdrawal from them.
  • Always reward calm behaviour with dog treats or playing.
  • Never try to force your dog to face their fears – they’ll just become more frightened.
  • Never try and tempt them out if they do retreat, as this may cause more stress.
  • Never tell your dog off. This will only make your pet more distressed. It is important to remember that it is natural for a dog to be scared of loud noises and unfamiliar sights and sounds.
  • If you need to open the front door, shut your dog safely inside a room first.

Things owners should never do!

  • Never take your dog to a firework display, even if your dog does not bark or whimper, don’t assume he or she is happy. Excessive yawning and panting can indicate that your dog is stressed.
  • Never tie your dog up outside while fireworks are being let off. 

I’ve tried most of these things with my dogs, and they work well for dogs they work for.

But… even if you follow every piece of this advice, some dogs STILL freak out during fireworks. If that’s the case, you may want to consider short term medication for the duration of the fireworks show.

What You Can Give Your Dog for Fireworks Anxiety

variety of pills on a table top

There are several approaches to medicating a dog for fireworks. Some involve over the counter remedies, while others are prescribed by a vet.

My husband is a Pharmacy tech and tells me that they fill a lot of dog prescriptions just before the Fourth of July.

Can I Give my Dog Melatonin for Fireworks?

According to the AKC, melatonin can be useful to help calm dog anxiety during fireworks.

It’s widely available over the counter, but for dosing I recommend that you talk to your vet. Different breeds and sizes of dogs will react differently to melatonin and need different dosages.

Side Effects of Melatonin in Dogs

It’s EXTREMELY unusual for melatonin to have side effects in dogs, but it can happen. Here are some possible side effects:

  • Itching
  • Confusion
  • Increased heart rate
  • Stomach cramps
  • Changes in fertility

The bottom line is if you give your dog melatonin to help keep him calm make sure to check with your vet first.

Can I Give My Dog Benadryl To Calm Him Down?

scared dog hiding in blanket

It’s very common for Benadryl to be used for dogs. Vets recommend it quite regularly.

It acts to block allergic reactions and as a mild sedative, so it can be used to calm dogs down during stressful situations like fireworks. It will calm many dogs down.

Important: You should NOT use Benadryl on your dogs if they have heart disease, high blood pressure, or glaucoma.

It’s also a good idea to check with your vet before administering Benadryl, just to be sure it’s safe for YOUR dog.

Benadryl Dosage for Dogs MG/KG

The dose that is standard for Benadryl for dogs is one millagram per pound of body weight and you can dose it 2 or 3 times a day.

Most of the tables sold over the counter are 25 mg, which is what you need for a 25 pound dog.

Always check the actual dosage of each pill before administering and make sure that the pill ONLY contains Benadryl and nothing else (like Tylenol).

Side Effects of Benadryl in Dogs

Most dogs don’t get major side effects from Benadryl, but it isn’t unheard of. The side effects are similar to what humans typically experience:

  • Dry mouth
  • Sleepiness
  • Sluggishness
  • Urinary retention

Of course, if you’re using Benadryl to help your dog be calm during fireworks, then you will find that the sleepiness side effects can be super beneficial.

Dog Anxiety Medication – Trazodone

hand holding pill in front of dog

Trazadone is only available with a veterinary prescription and can be filled at almost any pharmacy, because it’s a human drug.

I checked with my husband and this is the med that he routinely fills for dogs – especially right before fireworks displays.

It can make dogs very sleepy and help to curb their anxiety, so if you have a vet that will prescribe it can be a good choice for short term use.

Important: Do not use trazadone with your dog if your dog has high blood pressure is using an MAO inhibitor, or has sever cardiac disease.

Side Effects of Trazadone for Dogs

Trazadone can have side effects. These can include:

  • Sedation
  • Lethargy
  • Priapism
  • Cardiac conduction disturbances
  • Increased anxiety
  • Aggression

For most dogs using trazadone for fireworks, the sedation IS the desired effect, and why it’s given.

The Bottom Line on Calming Your Dog During Fireworks

Preventing fireworks stress in dogs is better than trying to calm dogs down after the fact.

Giving them a calm environment as far away from the noise as possible can help, and some dogs will benefit from pharmaceuticals or supplements.

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Hi! My name is Heather Hallman. I’m the mother of two beautiful girls and a MAJOR passionate pet parent. I can hardly wait to bring you the BEST resources and information that I've found for our fur-babies.