Remember, remember, the 5th of November – it’s not that long away and once again, we’re going to be watching so many of our best friends cower in fear at the seemingly endless days of fireworks!
You’ve tried so many things to try to keep them calm but every year you dread their cowering, the fear you see in their eyes, the sudden starts, the shaking, the barking, the hiding behind the sofa.
You just want to be able to help them!
Our pets live and breathe their emotional and physical environment and this pandemic has had an enormous impact on them too. The reports of anxiety in dogs including separation anxiety are on the rise. A report published by the PDSA in 2018 estimated that as many as 40% of dogs have some form of noise phobia.
More dogs run away from home during fireworks than at any other time of year, so there is very good reason to be concerned.
So don’t forget keep them safe and indoors, close windows and curtains, make sure they have a safe, quiet space to rest but above all you yourself should remain calm.
Did you know when your dog feels excessive and prolonged fear and anxiety, just like in humans, it can cause actual physical pain?
If your dog is already in pain – with lameness/limping, twitching skin down their back, if they have soft tissue restrictions causing stiffness, groaning laying down and mobility problems the fear response becomes exaggerated and super sensitive.
And now we’re heading towards the longest night (sometimes week) of the year for our furry friends.
WHAT IS FEAR?
It is an emotion brought about by a “perceived” or “predicted” threat of danger, pain or harm.
Don’t get me wrong for your dog the fear is real, the threat is real because your dog’s body perceives it to be and his or her brain responds with protective or defensive actions.
The onion skin model below introduced by Professor John Loeser in the 1980’s is a great visual to explain what I mean by “perceived” or “predicted” threat.
This model highlights that fear is a perception brought about by lots of different internal and external factors but remember it’s the body’s natural way of preserving life.
(Note: In some human models nociception is substituted with tissue damage).
So if fear is a perception then surely there is a way to alter that perception?
Not only am I going to reassure you that with patience and consistency there is, I’m also going to explain to you that the answer has been in yours or your clinical massage therapists’ hands all along. Quite literally!
Now a dip into the nervous system…hang in there !
FIGHT,FLIGHT, FRIGHT AND REST & DIGEST RESPONSES
Below is a basic model of the nervous system. I’ll briefly explain how the two highlighted and opposing branches of the autonomic nervous system (also known as the ANS) affect the body.
The branches of the sympathetic or fight, flight, fright and the parasympathetic or rest and digest.
Important: The physical responses initiated by these branches are automatic – your dog can’t control them!
What Are The Effects Of The Fight, Flight, Fright Response In Your Dog?
The sudden shock from a firework going off instantly releases hormones like adrenaline and the stress hormone cortisol.
You may see shaking, increases in heart, blood pressure and breathing rates. Eyes will widen and pupils dilate, mouths will be dry, gums will be pale as blood is diverted to the vital organs.
This response also shuts off non-essential senses such as hearing.
Hands up how many of you try to drown out fireworks with louder music or tv?
Your dog may expel vomit, pee or poo, they may try to hide or even bite as their bodies shut down normal function and go into survival mode.
Does this sound familiar?
I did promise you that with consistency and patience I could help you change all that. But to understand how we must first look at the physical response the body has to rest and digest stimulation.
What Are The Effects Of The Rest & Digest Response?
Have you ever had a relaxing spa massage?
Finally, there you are – ready for some You time …….
You wrap yourself in the soft, white, fluffy bathrobe and sink your bare feet into fleece lined slippers. Soft unassuming music is playing in the background, you smell ….hmmm … lemongrass.
You’re aware of the sounds, the smells the feelings. Your massage therapist only speaks to reassure, they perform light, soothing, flowing, predictable strokes. You sigh deeply as you let your pain, discomfort and stresses of the week just float away on a puffy cloud as you drift in and out of sleep.
Do you remember how that felt? Hands up who snored!
Then it should come as no surprise that your therapist was inducing the parasympathetic nervous system, your rest and digest response. It is exactly the same for your dog.
When the rest and digest response is activated the physical changes you see and your dog will feel are the opposite to fight, flight.
Their heart rate slows, blood pressure drops, respiration rate drops, the digestive and immune systems are activated and blood and fluids will once again be working their way around the body normally to try to return to homeostasis (the balance of the body’s systems). Eyes will soften, breathing will slow, pupils will return to normal, shaking will stop, your dog will settle and be able to visually and mentally focus and very often they will sleep.
So you see, just like you during massage your dog can’t control these neurological responses but we can change their physiology by using massage to change their perception. To switch off fight, flight, fright and switch on rest and digest. To reduce pain levels which over-sensitize the nervous system to the loud noises they might otherwise be able to cope with.
From your perspective would you want to be in a room full of noisy people when you have a banging headache?
Now we don’t offer fluffy bathrobes and slippers but what we do offer in a trained clinical massage practitioner and Canine Massage Guild member is a life changing, science-based manipulative therapy which has a profound and positive impact on your dog’s body. I have described Swedish massage techniques in the spa setting but your clinical therapist is proficient in Swedish, Deep Tissue, Sports Myofascial release and the trademarked Lenton Method. We simply adapt our approach to meet your dogs needs.
This is not a one massage fix – it is a consistently and regularly delivered message to your dog’s nervous system with the calm, reassuring patience and empathy you’ve come to appreciate from our distinguished guild therapists.
To book your dog in for massage: https://BorntoRun.as.me/
Not in Suffolk, Norfolk or Essex/Suffolk borders? Don’t worry to find your closest therapist click here https://www.k9-massageguild.co.uk
If you’d rather learn how to help your own dog at home with massage I run Massage workshops where I teach you key techniques to help you help your best friend through this tough time.
Beginners Guide to Massage 1 day Workshop
The power is in your hands!
SOME MORE CALMING TIPS:
Here are a few more things you can try Including massage. You should begin now and use consistently – don’t wait for the dreaded fireworks to start or these simply won’t work!
Scents: I find rose water works wonders in our household, but I spray it throughout the year at times when my dogs are rested and calm. I’m not a fan of chemical diffusers but I do think therapeutic grade essential oils have a place here too. You could try grounding or calming oils such as Valerian, Calming Blend, Sandalwood or Frankincense or emotional calming oils such as Rose Otto. These must be therapeutic grade.
I recommend https://myanimalmatters.co.uk
Soft Sounds: Music specifically designed to stimulate and calm your dog by tuning into their frequencies. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Through-Dogs-Ear-Canine-Companion/dp/1591796423
The Physical: Thundershirts. Clothing which applies pressure to points across the body and has a seemingly calming effect on our dogs. No time to wait for delivery? Here is a link to my facebook page which shows you how can make your own at home.
About the Author:
Born to Run, Suffolk
Keep your eyes peeled my new website is coming soon!