I know it’s a long way off, but I am starting to worry about the impact of the firework season on my three year old Border Collie. We seem to suffer excessively from over eager firework enthusiasts in the area where I live, and they start going off mid October and last well into November! Charlie, my dog, has always found it nerve wracking and cowers, shaking and salivating profusely under the table or in the cupboard under the stairs if he can get in there! – I got him as a rescue when he was only eight months old – but we don’t really know why he is so nervous. Ideally, I would like to find a natural cure or treatment, but am open to any suggestions! Can anyone help please?
Theresa Russell, Derbyshire
Dorwest Herbs emailed us to say: There is no need to panic this firework season with the help of veterinary licensed medicine Scullcap and Valerian Tablets and top ups of Organic Valerian Compound, thousands of dogs have stayed calm and laid back despite their firework fears and phobias. This year we have free leaflets which contain a count down calendar of top behavioral tips which can be downloaded from www.dorwest.com or picked up from petshops, groomers and veterinary surgeries throughout the UK.
Along with the handy leaflets Dorwest have dedicated advisers available very week day to answer question on how best to treat noise phobia in dogs, so if you need help or advice call 01308 897272.
It is sensible to begin to look for ways to help your dog in advance of what has now become the firework season – the bane of many dog owners lives. Fear and panic have physical effects on people and animals. Dogs who are noise phobic are often sensitive to contact around the hind quarters, ears and feet. This can simply be caused by the habitual posture adopted by a generally anxious dog. However, it is important to have your dog checked by the vet to ensure that he has no physical problems which could contribute to his issues with firework noise.
The Thundershirt is currently right at the top of my tool box to help dogs who are noise phobic. The physical effect of panic is that your dog loses control of his body and movement. The light pressure of the Thundershirt can help a dog to maintain physical control and this in turn helps him to retain emotional control. As a TTouch Practitioner I have used body wraps and t-shirts to help dog’s to cope with sound sensitivity issues for many years. Thundershirts are a very welcome addition to my tool box and have been highly effective in the majority of cases which involve sound sensitivity. The results of a recent survey carried out in the USA, where 1,999 dogs were surveyed and a Thundershirt was used for treating their dogs showed that Thundershirt had the best overall success rate: ie Thundershirt – 82% success Environmental Management – 77% ,Drugs – 76%, and Other Solutions Tried – 43% success.
The designers are so confident in the effectiveness of their product that they offer a full refund to purchasers who find that it has not helped their dog to calm down. It is excellent to be able to offer clients a solution which does not involve giving medication to the dog. Thundershirts are available from Xtra Dog www.xtradog.com or by telephone on 0330 088 3647.
In addition, stay as neutral as possible when firework noise begins. If you look or sound concerned, your dog will think that you are frightened by the noise too. Make sure that he has a safe place to go and lie down – if he has an indoor kennel, cover it with a blanket but make sure the door is left open so that he is not trapped. If he will take a few treats that may also help to calm him.
Tellington TTouch is an excellent training method to help your dog to gain confidence and self control. You can find a TTouch Practitioner to help you http://www.ttouchtteam.com/CAPrac.html
Marie Miller, Technical Consultant to Xtra Dog, Tellington TTouch Practitioner Level 3, member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers no. 130
DforDog emailed us with this: Bonfire night can be a real ordeal for many dogs. Of course, fear is a normal reaction which is important to survival but fear that is out of proportion to the danger can be problematic. There are a number of things you can do to plan ahead for bonfire night and actually on the night itself to make things more bearable for your dog. You are right to start early as desensitisation, which we will discuss first, is best done slowly over time, way before the firework season starts.
By introducing your dog in a gradual and controlled manner to the sounds they fear, you are in effect desensitising them to the sounds. This is relatively easy to do but must be done very slowly over a number of months and with constant monitoring of your dogs responses. It is important not to rush any of the stages.
You can create your own sound recording or alternatively there are a number of CDs available on the market designed specifically for this purpose. Once you have made or purchased your sound recording, play the sound very quietly as background noise while you both go about your usual day-to-day activities. Do not draw attention to the sound or fuss your dog. Gradually, for each session, increase the sound volume. The time you need to take on each stage can vary from dog to dog. Take your cue from your dog and do not proceed to the next stage until they are completely happy with the current volume level. Eventually the sound will become insignificant to your dog and they will ignore it. This is desensitisation.
There are a number of natural products that could help a fearful dog. Dog Appeasing Pheromone (D.A.P.) plug-in diffusers emit a synthetic substance that claims to mimic the reassuring pheromone produced by bitches for their puppies. Homoeopathic remedies may be useful, such as Bach Flower Remedies. Other natural remedies such as skullcap and valerian act as a herbal anxiety-relieving combination and claim to help at times of stress.
Thundershirt is an anti-anxiety vest for dogs. It is a drug-free solution for dog anxiety. Whenever a dog is anxious, fearful or over-excited, Thundershirt's gentle, constant pressure can bring calm and focus. Thundershirt applies gentle, constant pressure on a dog's torso, and this pressure has a dramatic calming effect for most dogs. Pressure has been used to successfully reduce anxiety for many years http://www.dfordog.co.uk/store/pid-409/thundershirt_dog_anxiety_calming.html
During the time of the fireworks you must make sure that you do not inadvertently reinforce your dog’s fearful behaviour by paying them extra special attention. This will only lead your dog to think that it is right to feel fear and also that by showing fear they gain your attention and comfort. This will reward their fear response and make it more likely to recur. Instead, remain calm and act as you usually would. Ignore fearful behaviours and reward calmness. If you remain calm then you encourage them to remain calm. Dogs also learn from each other. If you have a friend who has a dog that is not afraid of fireworks, invite them round for the evening. Your friend's dog will help set the right example. A word of caution - learning by example can work both ways. If the visiting dog becomes anxious after observing your dog's fear, do not continue.
If your dog has been for a nice long walk and is physically and mentally tired out, they will be much more likely to settle in the evening and less likely to worry about the noise, lights and activity outside.
Take simple measures to make your dog comfortable such as closing the windows and curtains so that the sounds are not as loud and your pet cannot see the fireworks going off. It might also help if you provide your pet with a safe house such as a cosy den full of blankets. Make sure your dog views his den as his safe house by providing treats for him while he is in there and making sure he generally associates it with nice things. Ideally, start this a week or two before fireworks night.
Some dogs can also benefit from being fed a meal high in carbohydrate (such as well-cooked rice or pasta) which will help them to feel sleepier that evening.
- Find out the exact date of local firework displays.
- Ask neighbours to warn you in advance of any private displays.
- Make sure your dog is wearing a collar and ID tag incase they escape in fear.
- Top up your dog's water as an anxious dog may be more thirsty than usual.
Phytoforce sent us the following email: November 5th is looming large once again and it is a night that often proves very distressing for pets particularly dogs which can be absolutely terrorised by the sound of fireworks going off. Leading veterinary surgeon, Ray O’Mahony MVB MRCVS CVH, who specialises in veterinary herbal medicine and is creator of his own range of herbal tonics called Phytoforce, takes a look at phobias in dogs and offers tips to owners on what to do to overcome and deal with them.
“In older dogs where these phobias are already formed then dealing with them is more difficult but there are many aids to desensitising your dog. Firstly start desensitising at any other time of the year than Bonfire night. Start with lower levels of noise and gradually increase the intensity, there are a number of commercially available CDs for this purpose. Try to associate positive rewards around the noises, something the dog really likes, be it food, play, grooming or praise whichever your dog enjoys most. This method is referred to as counter conditioning and can prove very effective. You should however refrain from giving excessive comforting or attention if the dog starts exhibiting signs of fear as the dog may well interpret this as a positive reinforcement of its fearful demeanour, i.e. when it acts fearfully it gets more attention. Your dog is very sensitive to your feelings so try to project a calm and confident demeanour when dealing with any stressful situations.
“For some severely affected dogs where the desensitising attempts have not worked completely you may need to introduce calming aids. There are a number of options available from pharmaceutical drugs such as Valium, to Homoeopathic remedies such as Phospherous 30C, or Herbal formulas containing herbs such as Chamomile or Valerian, remember when using herbs that a multi herb formula will always work better than a single herb remedy, or pheromone therapy such as the Dap diffusers. “
As with all complex behavioural issues a multi pronged approach is the most appropriate and the one most likely to achieve success for you and your dog. In our clinic we generally advise the creation of a ‘safe’ place by using a Dap diffuser, start on an appropriate herbal formula and then begin desensitisation and counter conditioning exercises months before bonfire night. Remember the older the dog the longer and slower the desensitisation process will be. Remember also to keep up with the exercises regularly even after your dog is used to the sounds as the more often they hear it the less likely they are to relapse into a fearful response. An approach like this is applicable to many of the behavioural problems encountered in dogs, and cats.
Prior to the big night make sure your dog gets lots of exercise and has a little extra in his dinner bowl. Exercise releases endorphins and serotonin making him less nervous and helping him sleep more soundly.
Speak to your vet or local animal behaviourist for more advice on the desensitisation and counter conditioning exercises mentioned above.