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Thursday, 25 August 2011

Taking the fear out of fireworks

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 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 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

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.
Alternative Treatments
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
Remain Calm
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.
Tired Out
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.
Comfortable Surroundings
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.
Comfort Food
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.
Other Precautions
- 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.
Jenny Prevel

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.
“First off avoiding these phobias is the most effective way of dealing with this distressing issue,” Ray states. “Puppies have a sensitive period up to about 12 weeks, so the more encounters you can fit into this sensitive period the better as puppies with many different experiences tend to form fewer phobias and are less anxious in general. Loud noises should be introduced and if the puppy does exhibit any distress just reassure them and they will quickly get used to them, after this sensitive period they have a juvenile period and the first month or two of this period is almost as important as the sensitive period so make sure you continue to with the various stimulae in order that your puppy learns that new experiences should be met with curiosity rather than fear.
“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. “
Phytoforce’s Relax Tonic is an effective blend of calming herbs that combine to give stressed out dogs, and owners, a bit of peace. The tonic relaxes without sedating allowing them to enjoy life to the full. Its unique formula acts on a number of levels, reducing immediate anxiety and nervousness while also acting longer term as an adrenal tonic to bolster and support timid dogs worn out from their anxieties. They begin to feel more secure and react in a more positive way. This tonic may prove useful for any condition where fear, stress or boredom is a factor. For daily use give 1 pump /12kg body weight twice daily. During times of acute stress this amount can be doubled. Relax is most effective if given for a period of time before the dog becomes stressed as it allows him to deal more effectively anxiety and fear. Higher doses may have sedating effect and individual responses vary so dosing should be tailored accordingly. At maintenance dose lasts 40 kg dog 2 months or 10 kg dog for 6 months. The unique foil pouch ensures activity is maintained throughout extended periods of use. The product retails for £29.99 and can be bought online at
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.


  1. Obviously each dog is differnt. All the usual advice of shutting all the curtians, turning up the tv etc... some of our customers have found the Thundershirt has helped their dogs a great deal.

    More info and a video at link below

  2. Starting a programme with a noise desensitisation CD now would go a long way to helping Charlie permanently, then if you need them a Thundershirt and/or Zylkene will help him in the short term.

  3. Its never too early to start getting your dog used to fireworks or other loud noises, in fact the sooner the better! There are lots of little things you can do to help but the overall aim is to desensitise your dog to the sounds and manage the environment to make sure they are more likely to feel secure. There are a number of scary sound CD's available which work well. Starting off a low volumes you leave the CD on repeat and day by day increase the volume until it replicates the volume of the real thing. Always go at your dogs pace and only increase the sound if they are comfortable at the current level. As well as this you can condition the dog to associate loud noises with something good by tossing a super tasty treat towards them when a loud noises goes off (but only if they remain calm). In terms of management you can use an Adaptil/DAP plug in diffuser or collar, Zylkene tablets, Rescue Remedy or skullcap/valerian mixture. Leave the TV or radio on really loud to drown out the sound of the bangs (classical music works best), set up a cosy den for your dog to escape to, leave them with an item of work clothing to comfort them and/or fill them up with a large meal so they are more sleepy when fireworks begin. You could also try a Thundershirt, equafleece or Mekuti body wrap. Make sure you take them out to do their business well before the fireworks start and ALWAYS keep them on lead so they dont bolt in fear. Reassurance in terms of stroking/cuddling can be helpful but don't over do it and use jolly tones when speaking to your dog. Keep in mind that using sedatives can be counter productive as a sedated dog may be drowsy and still but can still be terrified.

  4. Fantastic advice above! As everyone has previously said, all dogs take different amounts of time to become desensitised to the sounds of fireworks/bangs/gunshots/thunder, but it is great that you are thinking about this already. Now is really the time to get started with using a CD based training programme, and Sounds Scary is the only scientifically proven CD manufactured for just this. Sounds Scary was developed by two very well known veterinary behaviourists - Sarah Heath and Jon Bowen, who are both top experts in their field.

    In terms of sedating Charlie for firework nights, ensure that the correct medication is supplied, as just as Joanne says, the wrong sedative effectively just stops your dog from being able to react to the sounds, but he will still be just as scared. This inevitably almost always leads to an increase in the level of his fear next time fireworks are heard. Ensure that you ask the advise of a veterinary behaviourist on this matter.

    Also, make sure all the windows are closed and try to get some thick curtains, and keep them closed - this will help to drown out the sounds, but also will prevent Charlie from being able to see the flashes, which are also sometimes a trigger for dogs with firework fears.

    If Charlie would like to go under the stairs when he hears the noises, then it would be best to set up his 'den' in there - make it as snug as possible, put some of his bedding in there and make sure he always has access to that place if fireworks may be going off. Ensure that the cupboard is cleared out so that nothing can be knocked over onto him if he does get panicky. It would also be advisable to spray inside the cupboard with ADAPTIL spray, as this may help to reduce his anxiety, and have an ADAPTIL diffuser plugged in near to his normal bed at all times.

    Don't try to coax Charlie out from his hiding places, and equally don't go with him to cuddle him, as close contact is interpretted by dogs as meaning that there is something to be worried about. Reassurance is a human mechanism, and is often misinterpretted by dogs.

    The Sounds Scary CD can be bought online from Sound Therapy 4 Pets, at, or their phone number is 01244 371473 if you would rather phone them and ask their advice on the subject. You can also get Thundershirts and ADAPTIL from that website too! The Sounds Scary programme does take commitment from the owner, but when you have followed the instructions correctly the difference you will see will be remarkable.

    Good luck, and well done for thinking ahead so that you have time to make a difference before the fireworks start!

  5. Personally I feel the desensitisation CD's just prolong the stress your dog is under which can lead to other behavioural issues. The best thing you can do to limit the dogs stress during firework season is; make sure he has a safe place to go, you mentioned the cupboard under the stairs...if he feels safe there let him stay there if he wants to. Also make sure your home with him and try to give him other things to focus on during that time. Rescue remedy is also useful, 4 drops 4 times per day works well for my dogs. Make sure your calm and relaxed around him and make sure there are no other stressful situations for him to deal with. I've been told by collegues of mine that Canine Bowen treatments can help the dog to feel a little more relaxed so that may also be worth a try.

    Lucy Parker, Behaviourist, Staffordshire

  6. If you would like a natural remedy, then Nupafeed Stress-Less is a great thing to try.

    Stress-Less contains only Nupafeed’s unique MAH magnesium formula in liquid or tablet form; so you can use whichever form is easiest for you. There are no valerian, herbs, L-Tryptophan or any other ingredients which may have a sedative effect.

    In humans, magnesium is used routinely for anxiety and other stress related problems. Nupafeed’s MAH magnesium was developed for use in human medicine and is now available as Stress-Less for your dog. Stress-Less uses the same pharmaceutical grade ingredients, and is manufactured using the same exceptional standards that are required for human medicine.

    Magnesium is vital for normal nerve and hormone function. When stressed your dog burns off magnesium resulting in the release of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, causing further anxiety and hypersensitivity. Sress-Less works by supplying your dog with adequate levels of magnesium during times of stress, thus preventing this negative cycle.

    Because Stress-Less works to allow your dogs system to function normally, it has no detrimental effects and will not cause the lethargy that can result from normal calming supplements.

    Should you need to, you can use Stress-Less alongside other medications.

    For more information visit our website or follow this link:

    Jemma, Nupafeed

  7. The firework season is nearly upon us and many owners have begun to worry about how their dogs will cope already. With more and more domestic fire works available to the public it seems the season for big bangs gets longer. Equafleece have produced a fantastic t-shirt that is used as a portable hug for your dog and is used extensively by Tellington Touch practitioners and vets alike as a non chemical aid to calming. Every dog reacts differently to fireworks or general loud noises but it is products like the Equafleece t-shirt that are the inexpensive way to prevent anxiety and stress. The Equafleece t shirt comes in 6 different sizes and 3 colours with prices starting at £13.00 and are available direct from or to request a brochure call 0845 123 5296 .

    Equafleece also produces an extensive range of 100% water-repellent Dog Jumpers and Dog Coats. Made from the same grade of Polartec fleece associated with mountaineering products, Polartec's amazing wicking properties mean the fleece is also the most efficient way of drying off your dog. So, whether for keeping your dog dry in the rain or for drying off your dog after it has got soaking wet, an Equafleece garment is a must have for any canine from Chihuahua to Great Dane. Over the past 10 years Equafleece has witnessed winters becoming increasingly longer, with more extreme conditions not normally associated with the UK and has established itself as an award winning market leader offering dogs the protection they need against these harsher conditions of snow and rain.

    Its great to see a caring dog owner thinking ahead before its too late!

    Equafleece Ltd

  8. There is no need to panic this firework season with the help of veterinary licensed medicine Scullcap & 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 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.

  9. SleepyTime Tonic works quickly and has calmed lots of dogs with this type of stress. It's a herbal mix of Bach Flowers and herbs - I've used it on my own Beardie mix and seen him calm down within 20 minutes and be able to relax while the fireworks were going on outside.