We love to “ooh” and “ahh” over the glorious bursts of color and light that are fireworks. But for our dogs, those bangs and booms are anything but enjoyable.
In fact, more dogs run away on the Fourth of July than on any other day of the year. When those fireworks go off, all your dog can think to do is run and hide wherever he can.
So what is it about fireworks that sets your dog off so much? How can something that’s so enchanting to us be so terrifying to our pets?
Let’s take a look at fireworks from your dog’s perspective and find out just what’s so scary about them.
Three Reasons Why Dogs Are Afraid of Fireworks
Because They’re Loud
Saying fireworks are loud is a bit like saying the sky is blue or water is wet: duh! But it’s one of the biggest reasons why dogs don’t like them.
Even from miles away, fireworks are loud enough that some of us need hearing protection. So imagine what they’re like to dogs, whose hearing is far more sensitive than ours.
Your dog can hear sounds up to three times higher in pitch than you can. What’s more, he can hear sounds from up to four times further away than you can.
, So that high-pitched whistle of a firework shooting up into the sky is much, much louder to your dog than it is to you. And it also produces even higher-pitched sounds that you can’t hear — but your dog can.
Imagine being surrounded by noises that span your entire range of hearing at volumes so loud they hurt. Now imagine that there’s nowhere you can go to escape them and that those you usually turn to for help are busy having fun with the source of the noise.
That’s what fireworks are like for your dog.
We’ve yet to figure out a way to preserve the spectacular qualities of fireworks without the loud sounds. And until we do, our dogs will continue getting overwhelmed by the loud noises every Independence Day.
Because They’re Unpredictable
In terms of noise, fireworks are similar to thunderstorms, but even dogs that aren’t fazed by thunder and lightning are often terrified of fireworks.
And the loud, bass-heavy booms of fireworks aren’t too far removed from, say, a powerful stereo system. But your dog doesn’t cower in fear every time you play some music.
That’s because, compared to these noises, fireworks are incredibly unpredictable.
Dogs can tell when a thunderstorm is brewing long before the first dark clouds appear. They’re able to detect the changes in barometric pressure that precipitate a storm, so they’re able to brace themselves for the booms.
The sounds produced by thunder are also quite predictable. Thunderclaps may not follow a consistent rhythm, but they usually sound very similar to one another, and flashes of lightning let you know that thunder’s coming.
And the same goes for the low, loud sounds of drums and bass in music. The patterns and predictability of music let your dog get used to the noises and tolerate them without panicking.
Fireworks, on the other hand, produce a wide array of sounds at highly unpredictable intervals. One minute could be filled with whizzes, bangs, fizzles, and rat-a-tats; the next could be silent save for a few startling booms.
Without a pattern to let him know what to expect, your dog naturally gets a little on edge when he hears fireworks. When that state of anxiety gets prolonged, as it does during a fireworks show, it can quickly escalate into full-blown terror.
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Because They’re Inescapable
Loud, unexpected noises trigger your dog’s fight-or-flight response. If he opts to fight, he may start barking incessantly, reacting with apprehension or even aggression to anyone he sees.
But for the majority of dogs, the instinct to flee is stronger. When the fireworks begin, your dog whine, tremble, cower, tuck his tail between his legs and run for cover.
Both of these responses are natural reactions to perceived threats: either attack and drive the threat away… or run and hide where it can’t cause any harm.
The problem is that fireworks are so loud that there’s often nowhere for your dog to hide from them.
Being indoors may help, but depending on your home’s proximity to the fireworks, the noises could still be loud enough to cause your dog distress. He may retreat to the basement or curl up under the bed, but it can still feel like there’s no escape from the sounds.
And if your dog is outside, he’s likely to run away in an attempt to get away from the fireworks. Again, though, he’ll find that there’s nowhere he can go that the sounds won’t reach him, adding to his fear and panic.
Most things are less scary when we know we have a way to escape them. So it makes sense that fireworks and their inescapable noises alarm your dog like nothing else on the planet.
"If you think dogs can’t count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then give him only two."
-- Phil Pastoret