Thursday, 10 October 2013

Firework Fears

OK, it is official I'm rubbish at bloging. So just to prove I'm still alive I'm posting an article I wrote a few years ago about fireworks and preparing your animals for this scary season. Tellington TTouch can help not only your dog but you cats and small animals to. Help reduce the stress for all of you and start now with a few simple TTouches and a body wrap or Thundershirt.  Contact your local TTouch Practitioner for advise.

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

Information about one to one training sessions and workshops can also be found on

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Sowing seeds

It is a rainy Sunday and I’m in a reflective mood. I’ve just come back from a walk with Bea where I’ve once again asked more of her at which she excelled. For the first time in about two years I asked her to walk alongside a busy main road. Seems a simple thing but until recently I was fairly sure this task would have been too much for her. Today she was calm and stead. She occasionally looked at the cars speeding past but never pulled, shied or span around me. She had one minor moment of hesitation walking past a garage with flapping banners outside which involved her just moving across me to give her self more space but with the aid of a few treats she stood near them and took the food I offered. It is so easy to assume if a dog doesn’t like something the first time they encounter it that they will never be comfortable. People simple don’t try again or flood the dog with the scary situation thinking this will help. I like to set goals and work towards them. I’ve been building up Bea’s confidence around traffic for a year now and today that work paid off.

In the last few months I have been able to challenge her comfort zone and my expectations a fair amount. I recently organised a seminar for the Labrador Lifeline Trust, the charity which she came to me from. We allowed people to bring their dogs if they wished and I brought Bea in for most of the day with a few short breaks in the car. In the middle of the day with one ear on the speaker I started to catalogue all the small things in the day which used to freak Bea out. They may seem small but none the less common every day occurrences that would have sent her into orbit before. This is the list (slightly extended to include every day life)

Being in a room calmly sleeping with 40 people around her
People Clapping
Dropping things by her
Stroking her
Dogs barking near her
Going through doorways calmly
Walking on wooden flooring
Sitting under a table which she entered from a narrow gap
People moving around her
Being petted while eating or me moving around her whilst eating
Having her feet cleaned and her nails clipped
Asking for cuddles
Jumping up on the bed and sofa (took two years)
Jumping in the car (took nine months)
Jumping over logs
Being contained in small areas and willingly walking into them, like the porch
Me hugging and kissing her
Walking past dogs on a narrow path
Knowing what chews are and what to do with them
Running off in the park to sniff and explore
Walking nicely on a short lead
Being happy to be left with a friend if I’m away for the day

The list could go on and on but you get the picture. She may not be the most obedient dog in the world. It might take her a long time to learn some thing new but hey I don’t need her to be a competition winner. I just need her to be safe.

My shrinking violet has blossomed. She will never be the most confident or easy dog in the world, I can definitely say the journey at times has been frustrating, heartbreaking and hard but boy has it been worth it. For those of you out there struggling with a rescue dog, keep at it the rewards are amazing. My tips - don’t push them to soon, at first limit the time you expose them to a new stimuli, seek the appropriate professional help and above all set them up for success. The old saying goes, you reap what you sow. I sowed slow growing seeds and the bloom was well worth the wait.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Learning and filming

It’s Sunday and I’m having a day off. Jan and Feb have been manic but loads of fun. I’ve been filming with MWS Media. We are creating four short videos to promote my book and as part of a proposal for TV companies. I’ve called in favours with friends and managed to get some awesome photos of wolves and dogs. We will probably release one a month over a four month period. Watch this space for details.

I’m really proud of my little rescue dog Bea this week. Not only has she over come another fear and was relaxed and very well behaved in a room full of people but she also coped better than me when she had an accident. Some how she managed to get ensnarled in her crate bed in the car. It was so tightly wrapped around her right hind foot I had to cut her free. It took me 20 mins to free her and if she hadn’t sat still for most of the time with out panicking her injuries could have been so much worse. She just has a swollen knee and some soreness.  The vet prescribed Metacam and I also gave her arnica and loads of TTouch. She seemed unconcerned about the whole thing afterwards and the next day was happy to get back in the car. She has a re-check at the vets on Monday to ensure no damage to her knee now the swelling has gone down but she seems OK. She will see her osteopath next week though as a precaution. It is so easy to assume they are fine but accidents like this can affect any part of the body and good support from varies modalities is essential to ensure no long term problems occur.

I had the privilege of attending a seminar at Cara Dog Training in Sway yesterday. Nick Thompson my homeopathic Vet and friend was the speaker. I feel it is so important to update your knowledge and skills regularly. This has been hard for me to achieve in the last few years so it was great to be the pupil and not the teacher for a day. If you ever have the chance of attending a talk by Nick, do it. You won’t regret it.

Right, off to enjoy my day off and try not to do any work.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Let it snow, let snow let it snow.

It’s snowing; everyone is obviously home and internet showing or on Facebook as my connection is really slow so hence time to write a blog. Normally December and January are quiet times for me; it’s the only time I get the house work done regularly however this year it is really busy. I’ve been continuing to promote my book The Truth about Wolves & Dogs, really heavily with lots of radio and internet interviews. Is has been get fun as I love this type of thing. Look out for my latest interview on Dogcast Radio at the end of January 2013. I’ve been working really hard over Christmas on writing treatments, that’s a script to you and me but in the film world they are called treatments. These are for a series of short video clips for Youtube etc. which will promote the book and hopefully build an audience to show major TV networks that it would do well as a TV programme. I’ve been working with MWS Media in Newbury who are fab. I meet Ben years ago when I was working at the UK Wolf Conservation Trust when he filmed the wolves. Fingers crossed on the TV deal. Ben and I have loads more ideas for another series if we can pull this one off. Even if it doesn’t happen I’ll end up with four lovely clips to promote the book and my work, very exciting.
Alongside the PR I’ve had clients to see, this week as been filled with German Shepherds, a breed I fell in love with when working for Guide Dogs years ago. This breed really does need a special owner and all three GSDs I saw this week have really fallen on their paws. It is so easy for GSDs to end up in rescue as they are a challenging breed as youngsters. They need so much socialisation and can run into trouble so quickly once the hormones and second fear period kicks in. Of course being big and powerful only heightens the problem and they need specialist handling and care. Not a breed for the un-committed.

I’ve been preparing for workshops, talks and demos which will happen later on in the spring. I’ll be off to Rutland soon to give a talk for Royal Canin, weather permitting, then workshops and seminars. Check out my website for details Then it will be show season and All about Dogs Show in Newbury, Highclere Game Show and the Kent County Show, all in conjunction with Xtra Dog, which is always a pleasure working with Matt and Alex.

As well as writing, seeing clients and running workshops, between March and July I teach kids about farming and the environment for the John Symonds Trust. Lambing is only six weeks away. It is my favourite time of year at Rushall Organic Farm where the Charity is based. I get to help about 1300 lambs be born and it’s really magical. Of course being vegetarian I have to firmly put why they are born out of my mind. Every year I get attached to the orphans and every year the farm staff lie to me about what happens to them!

Looking forward, its going to be another jam packed year that might even top 2012. I’m definitely up for the challenge.