Noise Phobia - the Curse of the Firework.

(How to help your dog cope)

By Toni Shelbourne


It's a cold autumnal evening, curtains are drawn, the television is turned up loud and you've just turned down another social engagement; if this sounds familiar you probably own a dog with noise phobia. Thousands of animals suffer each year in the firework season, a survey in 2005 claimed that 49% of dogs suffer from a fear of loud noises, with fireworks, thunder and gunshot sounds being the most common. Although the situation has improved slightly in recent years due to campaigning from organisations like The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, 'firework night' still seems to extend over a long period.

Even with your special preparations your dog is still hiding in the downstairs cloakroom, behind the settee or under the bed. Others bark frantically or dig, pant and salivate. Many lose out on their evening walks, too scared to leave the house until morning and even then are jumpy and difficult to walk. In extreme cases dogs may become aggressive as owners try to restrain them. Urination and defecation is also common. Some feel the situation is so bad they put their dog to sleep. Whichever way your dog behaves there are few effective means to help them and owners are left feeling helpless.

For a dog with mild noise phobia, limited relief may be possible with off the self remedies like DAP or rescue remedy but for severe cases the trend until recently was sedation with Acepromazine (ACP). Many vets thankfully have come away from using this drug as although it tranquillises the patient it does not suppress the anxiety or emotions, leaving the dog immobile but conscious which can actually make the phobia worse. A dog in a hyperactive state will also require much larger doses to have any 'useful' effect. The two drugs of choice for vets today, Diazepam and Alprazolam (Xanax) are also very problematic with side affects and timing issues. They are also not a cure. A third drug Selegiline needs to be given long term with issues of cost for the owner. Many shy away from drug therapy or find it doesn't work in their situation. They have tried the desensitisation programmes, also struggled to ignore the dog's behaviour, believing that by doing this the dog will calm down or you will at least not reinforce the behaviour. Although there is some truth in that last statement, there is one training method which involves touching your animal, can be used safely while they are in a fear state without reinforcing the behaviour and gives you something practical to do to help your anxious pet; Tellington TTouch Training.

Tellington TTouch (TTouch) was developed over 30 years ago by Linda Tellington Jones. The method uses non-habitual movements of the skin to improve the posture of an animal. As posture affects behaviour, the animal's symptoms decrease as they come into balance. An animal requires physical, mental and emotional balance to be able to simply act, not react to a situation. Think of a saying you use to describe being frightened, like 'tuck tail and run', this beautifully describes the posture that a noise phobic animal can adopt. The posture then 'tells' the dog how to behave i.e. in a fearful way. Change the posture and a different message is sent, the behaviour diminishes and hopefully disappears over time. There lies the beauty of TTouch, it gets to the emotional core of the issue and helps the dog to change their perception of a fearful stimulus. As the dog can now rationally think its way through the problem, the desensitisation training, if still needed, becomes much more effective. They can now think due to not having to act in an instinctive fearful response. TTouch can be the long term cure as well as the on the spot relief. Better still, it is easy to learn and you can do it yourself in the comfort of your own home.

Many dogs show improvement after training and most go on to gain more confidence each year if TTouch is continued. I have personal experience of this method with my own dog. Dogs develop noise phobia for many different reasons. Buzz became frightened of fireworks and thunder due to my own irrational fear; happily we both got over our aversion with time. When I started training as a TTouch practitioner I naturally practised on Buzz. I'd quizzed my instructors on how to deal with noise phobic animals and prepared throughout October in the run up to the firework period. This involved a few minutes of body work each night when we came home from work and also putting on a body wrap, (a simple elasticated bandage which helps improve confidence and encourages calm behaviour). The first year he still hid under the coffee table but didn't pant or dig, just trembled, a big improvement. He even went out last thing at night into the garden to relieve himself as long as I went with him. The second year he could lay quietly on the sofa beside me, maybe waking and trembling if a particularly loud banger went off but would go back to sleep after a few more minutes of body work. He improved year after year. The highlight for me was being in the middle of a busy town on 5th November with a group of friends and watching my dog go outside and happily run up and down with fireworks going off all around him. I still never left Buzz alone in the firework season, but he had learned to cope with them. With a little preparation from me each year and the aid of a body wrap, which is like having a portable hug, he learnt to mostly ignore the bangs and whizzes, but if a little anxious he'd seek me out for extra body work when required.

One point to bear in mind, if your dog is arthritic or in pain it can make them much more noise sensitive. Think of a time you were in discomfort and ask yourself,  'What was my reaction to loud sound?' For me, I can't bear noise at these times. Dogs are the same, so if this is the case seek veterinary advice about appropriate pain relief. Many older dogs seem to become noise phobic and this can be the reason why. 

Anyone can learn TTouch to help their dogs, you just need to be dedicated and put in the pre-season preparation, however even if you don't or a thunder storm catches you unprepared, a few minutes of TTouch can make a world of difference. Remember it can't make the behaviour worse but it might help them cope through this difficult time of year.

To find out more about TTouch or to learn the technique to help your noise phobic dog contact Toni Shelbourne on:

Tel: 0118 9413270

Email: ttouch1@btconnect.com 

Information about one to one training sessions and workshops can also be found on www.tellingtontouch.co.uk