Many people struggle to comfort their dog when he is in the throes of a firework induced panic.
You may feel helpless and torn. Helpless because you feel there is nothing you can do to support him, and torn because there is a rumour going around that you can’t touch, talk to or even comfort your dog in any way as it will make him worse. We’ll put both those thoughts aside and check out one simple thing you can do to calm him down.
Dogs generally like their ears stoked, this is partly because we can influence how they feel physically and emotionally.
By stroking the ear we can have a positive effect on his heart rate and breathing, helping both to return to normal levels which promote calmness.
1. Position yourself so that both you and your dog are facing in the same direction. Gently place one hand on his chest or a light finger on the collar, but let him move away if he wishes. Begin by using the back of your free hand to stroke softly along the outside edge of one ear.
2. If your dog is happy about this, cup your hand around the ear and stroke from the base to the tip. Try to mould as much of your hand as possible around your dog’s ear for maximum contact. If your dog has upright ears work in an upwards direction: if they flop downwards, work in a horizontal outwards and downwards direction.
3. Next, take the ear between the thumb and curved forefingers of one hand so that you only have one layer of ear flap between fingers and thumb. Slide them along the length of the ear, working from the base near the head, right out to the end. Move your hand slightly each time you begin a new stroke so that you cover every part of the ear. Be gentle and work slowly to help calm and relax.
4. If your dog is holding his ears in a furled, pinned or high ear carriage, very gently unfurl them as you slide along each ear, and bringing it into a more natural, relaxed position. Posture can directly affect behaviour, so if the ears are relaxed the rest of the body will tend to follow suit.
5. If your dog appears to dislike ear work and has floppy ears, try moulding your hand over one and gently holding it against his head. Very slowly and gently move your whole hand in a circular movement, so that his head supports his ear. Make the circle small so that it is a subtle movement. If this is still challenging try wearing a sheepskin mitten or glove to diffuse the sensation even further. You may find that this will help to reduce any concerns he has and to become more tolerant about ear work. If he continues to show concern, do ask your vet to check his ears as there may be an underlying physical reason for his unease.
6. Once you have worked one ear for a while, swap to the other and back again as you feel you want to. You can do ear work in preparation, leading up to the 4th of July but, if safe to do so, you can also do it while the fireworks are going off to help support your canine companion.
This simple technique is part of a brilliant method called Tellington TTouch Training, (TTouch for short).
TTouch has a proven track record of helping all animals overcome fear of noises. Incorporating a few minutes of the specialised bodywork into your day in the lead up to the 4th of July, and using an elasticated bandage in a simple design or purchasing a Thundershirt, can really change how he feels about those scary bangs.
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.
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