In the UK we are gearing up for the main firework season of the year, the 5th November but for dogs worldwide, fireworks are a real problem.
Their use is growing in popularity, and are set off for festivals, New Year, religious celebrations and special occasions. Unless you live in the middle of nowhere, it is hard to avoid them. A survey in the states estimated a massive 23 million dogs are affected by a phobia of fireworks but it is the same worldwide.
So what can we do to make our petrified pooches braver?
Many people are at a loss but there is a lot you can implement to calm the fears.
Signs of noise phobia can be varied but most people will say their dog either barks, hides, pants, shakes or exhibits a combination of all. Don’t ignore the little signs though, like being clingy or yawning a lot (a classic calming signal). The golden rule for supporting your pet through this worrying time is preparation. If you have a new dog or a puppy who has never heard fireworks before, don’t assume they will be OK. Or if they are used to gunshots or other noises, the way the acoustics of sound move the airwaves around, doesn’t mean they will be fine with the whizzes and bangs of the fireworks.
There are many ways to prepare your dog, which are drug free and easy to learn.
My first port of call would be to find a good holistic vet to talk through and prescribe some remedies that are appropriate and safe for your dog. In the US you can find a vet at www.ahvma.org. However I would also recommend a multi-modality approach.
The most effective training method I know to help fearful dogs which is easy and safe to combine with alternative remedies is the Tellington TTouch Method. It is based on the principle that posture affects behaviour (and vice versa): therefore, by improving posture and movement, self-confidence and self-control will develop and increase. This is achieved by performing various non-habitual movements (the TTouches) on the body, and exercises carried out while moving, such as the Confidence Course. The method also employs equipment like the body wrap which can aid in calming and comforting the fearful dog.
The touches on the body can be very calming and comforting, which will help animals to be more at ease while being handled, and easier to treat or train. By reducing stress levels and encouraging rational thinking, you can help your dog to move from a state of fear or arousal to a state of calm focus, able to think rationally and to alter ingrained fear responses.
Although, ideally we would prepare dogs about a month in advance of fireworks by doing regular body work sessions and getting them use to wearing a body wrap, don’t worry about touching or interacting with your dog when the fireworks are going off if they need further support. Science tells us that not touching your dog at times of stress actually increases stress hormones. So you are not going to make the behaviour worse but by doing some of the work you will be improving their lives.
The best way to learn more about Tellington TTouch is to find a local certified practitioner to help you learn the work and guide you to success. There are practitioners in numerous different countries, visit www.ttouch.com to find out if you have one near you. You can also find lots more information in our book: “Help! My Dog’s Scared of Fireworks” by Toni Shelbourne and Karen Bush, which is available on Amazon on Kindle or paperback.
Toni Shelbourne has worked with domesticated and wild canids since 1989. After a long and successful career with the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, she started her own business as a Tellington TTouch Companion Animal Practitioner. She is now one of the highest qualified Practitioners in the UK. In 2001 her skills in TTouch took Toni to the UK Wolf Conservation Trust were she meet a pack of socialised wolves. She went on to work with them for over a decade as a Senior Wolf Handler and Education Officer for the organisation. Through observing the wolves she has a unique insight into their behaviour. This led to her questioning the ingrained ideas about the alpha theory with dogs, ideas that were often in conflict with her own knowledge and observations. Today she advises wolf organisations and zoos on wolf behaviour and management. She teaches all over the UK and abroad, works with clients’ one to one, writes and runs workshops.
Over the last decade Toni has been developing her writing. She spent two years editing and writing features for Wolf Print, the UK Wolf Conservation Trust’s international magazine. She went on to write for national dog magazines, rescue society newsletters and websites. Her first and second book, The Truth about Wolves & Dogs, (Hubble and Hattie 2012) and Among the Wolves (Hubble and Hattie 2015) have been a great success. Her latest writing collaboration with author Karen Bush sees a series of books entitled Help… My Dog is. The first, Help…My Dog is Scared of Fireworks is available as an eBook or in paperback format and is an essential guide for the owners of noise phobic dogs. More titles are planned.
Visit www.tonishelbourne.co.uk for more details about Toni, TTouch and her books.