By Toni Shelbourne
Many people struggle to comfort their dog or cat 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 common belief that you can’t touch, talk to or even comfort your pet as it will make him worse. Put both those thoughts aside and check out these simple Tellington TTouch® techniques to help calm the fear of fireworks.
- Cup an ear between the thumb and curved forefingers of your hand so that you only have one layer of ear flap between fingers and thumb.
- Slide your fingers along the length of the ear, working from the base right out to the end or tip.
- Change the position of your fingers slightly each time you begin a new stroke so you cover every part of the ear.
- Be gentle and work slowly to help calm and relax; repeat on the other ear, swapping back and forth every so often.
- Position yourself to one side of your dog or cat, preferably facing the same way as him – he can be sitting, standing or lying down. Start with your fingers and thumb relaxed and gently curved. Resting the hand on the top of his shoulder with your finger and thumb close together, slide it downwards over the opposite shoulder to the one you are sitting by, allowing your thumb and fingers to spread apart as it moves towards the top of the foreleg. Pause for a moment.
- As your hand comes back up towards the spine, allow the fingers to loosely close together again. Keep the pressure light, no more than the weight of your hand, but firm enough that you don’t tickle. For long coated animals you may find it easier to allow your fingers to nestle into his coat a little as you return to the top of the back.
- Change the angle of your hand slightly each time you complete an upwards or downwards movement so that your hand travels along the length of one side of his body from shoulder to hindquarters in a zigzag pattern. If you can, then do the other side, but don’t worry if he is lying down, just continue the Zebra TTouch on the side you can reach.
- Try to keep your palm in contact with his body or else the slide can feel a little tickly. You can also alter the speed of the Zebra starting a little faster and slowing as he responds.
Keep repeating, and watch your dog or cat start to settle.
TTouch Body Wrap
Wrapping your cat or dog in a bandage might not be the first thing you think of when it comes to noise phobia but it can be very comforting. Think of it as a portable hug or security blanket.
- You’ll need an elasticated bandage 2.5cm-5cm (1”-2”) in width for cats and small dogs or 7.5cm (3”) for larger dogs; ACE bandages are perfect. Bundle it in your hand, and let him sniff, and take a good look at it. Stroke it gently against his sides and chest. If he’s anxious about approaching it, place the wrap on the floor and put treats on top of it for him to eat.
- Fold the bandage in half and lay it across his back. If he’s concerned take it off; do some more TTouch body work and build up positive associations with the wrap using food.
- If he’s relaxed, unroll the bandage and pass it around the front of the chest. Bring both ends up and cross them just above his shoulder blades. If your dog freezes or cat rolls on his side, stop, remove it and try again another day.
- Next, take the two ends of bandage down the sides of his ribcage behind the front legs, beneath his chest, cross under the ribcage and back up again to his spine. Tie the ends using a bow or quick release knot so it can be quickly undone if necessary. Make sure the fastening lies to one side of the spine, not directly on top of it. Alternatively, sew some Velcro to the end of the bandage to secure it. The wrap should be applied loosely; its purpose is to provide feelings of security and sensory input, not to support, and it certainly shouldn’t restrict movement or cause discomfort.
- Encourage your dog or cat to move while wearing the wrap: if he freezes or rolls around use gentle coaxing, offer a really tasty treat or invite a gentle game with a favourite toy to overcome his reluctance. If he’s still worried after a few minutes, remove it and try again on another day. Before applying the wrap again, do more TTouches by way of preparation.
- Even if your cat or dog seems comfortable the first time he wears a wrap, remove it after a few minutes. Gradually increase the length of time it’s worn for during further sessions; an ideal time to build up to is around 20 minutes. On the nights when fireworks are going off he can wear it for the duration if he’s comfortable and you can supervise him; never leave your dog or cat alone while he’s wearing a wrap in case he gets caught up. Keep a close eye on him in case you need to make adjustments for comfort or safety, or if he wants it taken off.
On very rare occasions some animals appear to not tolerate body wraps at all. This may be down to an underlying health or pain issue so do consult your vet.
Some animals prefer a Thundershirt® to a bandage; it’s a matter of preference and both are useful tools.
The key to success is preparation. Ideally start to introduce TTouch body work and wraps at least a month before hand if you can. Both have a cumulative effect so the more you apply them the greater shift in fearful behaviour you will see. On the 4th of July, prepare by doing a body work session earlier on in the day and apply the wrap before the bangs are due to start. You can then, if it is safe for you to touch for pet whilst he is scared, top up the body work if he needs further support during the evening.
These are just a few steps to helping your noise phobic pet, for further help find a Tellington TTouch practitioner near you
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Read more about TTouch and other tips for firework fear in the book HELP! My Dog is Scared of Fireworks by Toni Shelbourne & Karen Bush