The Somewhat-Silent Explosions Made for Dogs

When it comes to a town-wide celebration — take the Fourth of July, for example — there’s a good chance a fireworks show will be part of the agenda, if not the main event. Fireworks can define a civic celebration. A bad show can have ramifications for the local government; while bursts of incendiaries probably shouldn’t be the most important issue for a mayor to tackle, people definitely care. A great show, though, rarely has any complaints.

Unless you’re a dog.

(And really, the same is true for a lot of other animals.)

In 2015, a company that makes GPS-powered ID tags for pets issued a press release claiming that “animal control officials across the country report a 30% increase in lost pets each year between July 4th and 6th. That specific stat is dubious, considering the source. But one thing is almost certain: Dogs hate fireworks. Per a 2013 study, about half of dog owners “reported that their dog showed at least one behavioral sign typical of fear when exposed to noises” and “owners most commonly reported fearful responses to fireworks in their dogs.” It makes sense — dogs hear loud, unexpected explosions, without the context that we humans have. The same goes for many other animals as well. 

So while we want to celebrate our national and local holidays, we probably don’t mean to torture our pets or surrounding wildlife while doing so. To address the issue, inventors have created everything from noise-canceling puppy earmuffs to anxiety vests for dogs. They work, somewhat, but you have to have one ready to go, you have to remember to put it on your pup before the fireworks start, etc. And they don’t do anything to help non-pet animals who live in the area.

Another solution? Do what the Italian town of Collecchio did. Per the New York Times, the municipal government “passed a law in 2015 that all fireworks displays must be quiet.”

While at first blush that may sound ridiculous — fireworks explore, and therefore are loud, right? — it’s actually rather achievable. As the Times further notes, “quiet fireworks are not a new invention. In fact, they are used routinely in classic firework shows as visual effects to accompany the loud bangs. Think of the ‘comet tail,’ which shoots into the sky with a trail of sparkles before quietly fizzling out. Or the ‘flying fish,’ which features tiny tadpole embers scattering away from a silent burst.” By balancing these effects and focusing more on color and aerial choreography (instead of big booming noises), fireworks pros can deliver a fun experience without scaring the local animals. 

There are a lot of limitations, though. First, “quiet fireworks” aren’t silent — they’re just much quieter than typical pyrotechnics. Second, you don’t get the big (and loud) grand finale. And of course, there are many fireworks fans who simply don’t want a quiet light show — they want the boom.

But for the dogs out there, for one town in Italy at least, it was worth the sacrifice.

Bonus fact: If you don’t like fireworks but you do like pets, good news: you can spend your 4th of July helping the latter cope with the former. You just need to be in Arizona. In 2018, Maricopa County Animal Care and Control introduced a “Calming Companions” program, inviting fireworks-skipping volunteers to instead spend the evening in the kennel, playing with the scared dogs and cats. According to One Green Planet, approximately 200 people showed up at the agency’s two locations, bring “their own chairs and blankets to sit on as they read, played music, and entertained the dogs.” Meanwhile, “staff at the shelters provided treats, toys, and games that helped keep the dogs and cats occupied, and the joint effort led to a great experience for everyone involved.”

From the Archives: Baks the Blind Dog and His Gaggle of Eyes: A nice story about a dog who can’t see (and probably wouldn’t like fireworks).