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    How to make Bonfire Night more bearable for your dog and how to deal with pet phobias

    NewsDog Health and WellbeingWednesday 31 August 2011

    November 5th is looming large once again and it is a night that often proves very distressing for pets particularly dogs, which can be absolutely terrorised by the sound of fireworks going off. Leading veterinary surgeon, Ray O’Mahony MVB MRCVS CVH, who specialises in veterinary herbal medicine and is creator of his own range of herbal tonics called Phytoforce, takes a look at phobias in dogs and offers tips to owners on what to do to overcome and deal with them. 

    “First off avoiding these phobias is the most effective way of dealing with this distressing issue,” Ray states. “Puppies have a sensitive period up to about 12 weeks, so the more encounters you can fit into this sensitive period the better as puppies with many different experiences tend to form fewer phobias and are less anxious in general. Loud noises should be introduced and if the puppy does exhibit any distress just reassure them and they will quickly get used to them, after this sensitive period they have a juvenile period and the first month or two of this period is almost as important as the sensitive period so make sure you continue to with the various stimulae in order that your puppy learns that new experiences should be met with curiosity rather than fear.

     “In older dogs where these phobias are already formed then dealing with them is more difficult but there are many aids to desensitising your dog. Firstly start desensitising at any other time of the year than Bonfire night. Start with lower levels of noise and gradually increase the intensity, there are a number of commercially available CDs for this purpose. Try to associate positive rewards around the noises, something the dog really likes, be it food, play, grooming or praise whichever your dog enjoys most. This method is referred to as counter conditioning and can prove very effective. You should however refrain from giving excessive comforting or attention if the dog starts exhibiting signs of fear as the dog may well interpret this as a positive reinforcement of its fearful demeanour, i.e. when it acts fearfully it gets more attention. Your dog is very sensitive to your feelings so try to project a calm and confident demeanour when dealing with any stressful situations.

    “For some severely affected dogs where the desensitising attempts have not worked completely you may need to introduce calming aids. There are a number of options available from pharmaceutical drugs such as Valium, to Homoeopathic remedies such as Phospherous 30C, or Herbal formulas containing herbs such as Chamomile or Valerian, remember when using herbs that a multi herb formula will always work better than a single herb remedy,  or pheromone therapy such as the Dap diffusers. “

    Phytoforce’s Relax Tonic is an effective blend of calming herbs that combine to give stressed out dogs, and owners, a bit of peace. The tonic relaxes without sedating allowing them to enjoy life to the full. Its unique formula acts on a number of levels, reducing immediate anxiety and nervousness while also acting longer term as an adrenal tonic to bolster and support timid dogs worn out from their anxieties. They begin to feel more secure and react in a more positive way. This tonic may prove useful for any condition where fear, stress or boredom is a factor. For daily use give 1 pump /12kg body weight twice daily.  During times of acute stress this amount can be doubled. Relax is most effective if given for a period of time before the dog becomes stressed as it allows him to deal more effectively anxiety and fear. Higher doses may have sedating effect and individual responses vary so dosing should be tailored accordingly.  At maintenance dose lasts 40 kg dog 2 months or 10 kg dog for 6 months. The unique foil pouch ensures activity is maintained throughout extended periods of use. The product retails for £29.99 and can be bought online at

    As with all complex behavioural issues a multi pronged approach is the most appropriate and the one most likely to achieve success for you and your dog. In our clinic we generally advise the creation of a ‘safe’ place by using a Dap diffuser, start on an appropriate herbal formula and then begin desensitisation and counter conditioning exercises months before bonfire night. Remember the older the dog the longer and slower the desensitisation process will be. Remember also to keep up with the exercises regularly even after your dog is used to the sounds as the more often they hear it the less likely they are to relapse into a fearful response. An approach like this is applicable to many of the behavioural problems encountered in dogs, and cats.

    Prior to the big night make sure your dog gets lots of exercise and has a little extra in his dinner bowl. Exercise releases endorphins and serotonin making him less nervous and helping him sleep more soundly.

    Speak to your vet or local animal behaviourist for more advice on the desensitisation and counter conditioning exercises mentioned above.

    If you require any further information on herbal remedies e-mail us at : [email protected]


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