Managing the fireworks season
For many dog guardian’s, autumn and the New Year is a time of anxiety knowing that the firework season is approaching. Many people will have tried various products and may be resigned to the fact that they think their dog can’t be helped to cope or even get over their fear of the bangs and whizzes. It’s believed from a survey conducted by Dogs Trust a few years ago that in the UK around 72% of dogs are firework phobic, with one in ten dogs so severely affected they required veterinary attention. With firework laws unlikely to change anytime soon many guardians seem resigned to the fact that nothing can be done, they have seemingly tried everything but little or no relief is found.
Toni's top tips for managing noise phobia
Noise phobia is a complex issue that needs to be addressed at many levels for changes in your dog’s behaviour to take place.
1. Firstly why is he scared? Did he lack exposure to novel sounds as a puppy, was he frightened on a late night walk, does he have very sensitive hearing, or is he in pain? These are just some of the reasons why dogs develop sound sensitivity. Addressing the problem at the root cause will facilitate your dog coping.
2. The next stage is to employ a variety of products and methods to help him cope. These can include calming treats like Tribal’s Liver and Lavender Reward biscuits, a Thundershirt and perhaps the use of products like Pet Remedy. There are many products on the market but rather than limit yourself to just one modality, you may find it more successful to employ a combination of them not just one at a time. This isn’t without its problems as you need to know what is safe to give your dog if he is on medication, which work well together and which to avoid combining.
3. This is why it is best to employ the services of a group of professionals to help you get the right mix for your dog. These should include your vet, a Tellington TTouch Practitioner, and behaviourist knowledgeable in working with noise reactive dogs, and various others qualified in animal complementary therapies.
It's OK to comfort your dog
The most common mistakes and misconceptions around trying to help dogs also doesn’t help. For years people have been led to believe that they shouldn’t comfort their dog when he is scared. This is the worst myth surrounding fireworks and can lead dogs to feel even more stressed at this difficult time. To put the record straight is it OK to touch your dog when he is frightened and it can be very beneficial to use the Tellington TTouch Training body work as preparation and at the time. There is one caveat to this statement, which is only to approach or touch your dog when he is frightened if it is safe for you to do so. Many dogs in a panicked state need to move or can behave out of character when scared and lash out through fear, so know your dog and act accordingly. Don’t restrain a pacing dog or reach out to a fearful dog if you feel he might act aggressively in terror. That doesn’t mean you can’t help him, as the Tellington TTouch (TTouch for short) work should be started at least a month before the first fireworks are due.
Changing how a dog feels and copes with the bangs can be achieved by simply helping him to change his posture. There is an intrinsic link between posture and behaviour so if the body is held in a pattern of fear, he will continue to be fearful. Change this to a confident stance and the emotion will change too. Many noise phobic dogs hold their tails and hindquarters in a postural pattern which promotes a habitual state of fear. You can see this by the way they wag their tail; which might move stiffly or be held tucked under him, or he might move away when you try to groom or touch the tail. The face of a noise phobic dog will often look tight, he may be vocal, difficult to pill pop or be an excessive chewer. Helping these problem areas to soften and move more freely will facilitate change in the behaviour.
It is best to start early when working with firework fears as preparation is key to success. This success can also be greatly aided by combining the TTouch body wraps or Thundershirts, calming treats and products; but miss out the TTouch body work and little change will be seen and no permanent modifications witnessed. Working with a certificated TTouch practitioner who will teach you how to assess, read and apply the work is really useful and will give lifetime skills to help your pet and future pets to come. Although working with a qualified TTouch practitioner is ideal – and certainly recommended for more severely affected dogs or if you find yourself struggling to use it – you can read about TTouch in books, attend a workshop or view videos on YouTube.
Just remember even if you have tried and failed to change your dog’s view of bangs, pops and whizzes, all is not lost; by planning ahead and putting in as little as 10 minutes of work each day for a month or so before the worst of the noises start, you can make a very real difference to your dog and have a calmer firework season.
Toni Shelbourne and Karen Bush’s book HELP! MY Dog is scared of Fireworks, is also a great resource for working with and managing your fearful dog. It is available from Amazon in eBook and paperback or direct from www.skinnydogbooks.jimdo.com
Toni Shelbourne has three decades of experience working with dogs and wild canids. She is a behaviourist (Full member of INTODogs & ICAN), Tellington TTouch Practitioner, Real Dog Yoga Instructor and author of three books and co-author of the HELP! My Dog book series. She lives in Oxfordshire, England where she sees clients, runs workshops and gives talks and webinars. For more information visit www.tonishelbourne.co.uk