For every person staring up at the sky in awe on the Fourth of July , there's a dog cowering in a corner. Ears back, panting, trembling, hiding—for some pet parents, seeing their pup in fireworks-induced distress can be enough to ruin the holiday altogether.
This intense anxiety caused by loud noises is the result of evolution. Like all animals, dogs survive by avoiding perceived threats, so until we can explain to them that fireworks are essentially harmless, they're going to keep panicking every time the sky explodes.
"Hearing the noise and not knowing where it's coming from is probably much scarier for a dog, and this is why fireworks are much scarier for a dog," Daniel Mills, a professor of veterinary behavioral medicine at The University of Lincoln in England, told Smithsonian Magazine . "You can watch a fireworks display and know that it's not going to hit your balcony. But if you're a dog, all you know is there's a bang there, a bang there, and I don't know the next bang isn't going to happen here."
While veterinarians don't know exactly why some dogs are afraid of fireworks while others aren't, many dogs that react to one noise often react to others. How dogs react to loud noises may be influenced by their breed. One study found that with German shepherds are more likely to pace, while border and Australian cattle dogs are more likely to hide. Temperament, regardless of breed, also plays a significant role.
For some dogs, early life conditioning can make the difference in their sensitivity to sound.
"Puppies have this period where their brain learns what is normal in the world, what is okay and what should I not be afraid of. And then after 12 weeks of age [about when most dogs are adopted], they start to develop their fear response," Naomi Harvey, Research Manager in Canine Behavior at Dogs Trust, explained to Smithsonian Magazine . "So, if they encounter something new after three months of age and it frightens them, they can learn to be afraid of that going forward."
If you have a dog that suffers from fireworks-related anxiety, there are things you can do to make the Fourth of July more manageable for you and your pup. Start by creating a comfortable, indoor space where your dog can ride out the pyrotechnics safely. In more extreme cases it's a good idea to talk to your vet about anti-anxiety meds. But whatever you do, don't get angry at your dog for being afraid… it's natural.