What happens in a dog’s brain when they hear fireworks

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

Even though personal fireworks are illegal in many cities, we know many people ignore the law around the July 4th holiday weekend.

This means the sight and sound of crackling bottle rockets, Roman candles, flowers and sparklers – legal or illegal – will echo through neighborhoods for several nights, which poses a unique risk to dogs.

There are two main reasons why man’s best friend is easily spooked by fireworks.

The first is the most obvious: Fireworks are loud.

“Dogs have exceptional hearing,” Purina explains. “If a dog comes running to the sound of a crinkling food wrapper from a different part of the house, you can imagine how sensitive they are to firecrackers.“

Smithsonian digs a little deeper.

“Dogs hear more than twice as many frequencies as humans, and they can also hear sounds roughly four times further away. Reacting to every sound would demand too much energy, and so dog brains must determine which sounds are significant and which can be tuned out.”

Fireworks, Smithsonian explains, are easily perceived as a threat by dogs which triggers survival instincts that make them anxious and likely to run away.

The second reason dogs are afraid of fireworks is because they are unpredictable.

While humans know it is the 4th of July weekend, dogs don’t have any frame of reference (or necessarily share our patriotism).

“To them, it’s just another day, and when the loud noises and flashing lights start, they have no idea what’s happening or why,” Purina says.

To dogs, fireworks go off randomly with no rhyme or reason, which makes them even more disorienting and threatening.

Many dogs react to fireworks by becoming anxious, hiding, running away or even becoming aggressive – similar to a panic attack in humans.

To protect your pooch, the American Kennel Club offers a few pieces of advice.

Keep your dog away from fireworks entirely. Keep them inside at night. Create a safe space for your dog inside and away from windows. Basements are ideal. Play white noise, like a TV or radio, to help mask the sound of fireworks. Comfort your dog if they’re afraid. Petting them with long, firm strokes is typically soothing. Take them for a walk before the sun goes down. Desensitize your dog to the sound of fireworks. Jenn Stanley, a certified behavior consultant and professional dog trainer, recommends pairing the sounds of fireworks with treats in a process called “counter-conditioning.” Finally, if your pet’s anxiety gets particularly severe, book a visit with your vet to discuss medication.

Also, experts say to make sure your dog has proper identification in case it runs away. Animal control and dog shelters are often overwhelmed by runaway dogs on Independence Day.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.