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Saving Bonnie from a fright night

Name: Sharon Egan from Bray, Co Wicklow

Animal: Bonnie, her one-year-old terrier

Problem: Bonnie gets spooked when she hears fireworks

Bonnie is a typical terrier, full of energy and quick to react to any changes in her environment. She's been finding this time of year challenging. When a firework goes off, she jumps with a start. She looks anxious and she looks around to see where the strange noise is coming from. She barks, running around the room.

Sharon normally calls her over and reassures her, and she eventually settles down, but she stays uneasy, on high alert, all evening.

As the date of Halloween approached, Sharon came to see me, asking if I could recommend anything else that could be done to help Bonnie cope. I gave her some simple advice that may be useful to other owners of nervous dogs at this time of year.



Radio

First, every dog should have a safe, secure den to hide in, such as a utility room or a cupboard under the stairs. Put a dog bed in there, with plenty of bedding, and owners' old unwashed T-shirts and jerseys, which will give a sense that the owner is close by. The den should have light-proofed windows and be well sound-proofed. A loud radio should be left on all the time, drowning out sounds of fireworks. Favourite toys should be put in there, as well as a supply of treats like dog chews.

Second, a special type of vapouriser, known as a DAP Diffuser, should be plugged in beside the bed. Instead of a pleasant smell, this emits a vapour containing 'Dog Appeasing Pheromone'. This has a soothing, comforting effect on dogs, and helps to reduce anxiety.

Third, one new approach is a type of dog coat, known as a Thundershirt. This is a special jacket which is tightly strapped around a dog: the application of gentle pressure all over seems to help many dogs feel calmer.

Finally, I prescribed anti-anxiety medication to help Bonnie get over the challenging week leading up to Halloween. Every evening, a tablet will help her feel more relaxed and less agitated about frightening noises.

I also told Sharon that she may be able to help Bonnie by giving her less attention when she over-reacts to fireworks. If an owner makes a big fuss of a frightened dog, some pets then seem to learn that 'looking frightened' is a good way to get plenty of affection from their owner.



distressed

Instead, Sharon should try to focus on Bonnie at times when she is calm and relaxed, giving her lots of praise, attention and rewards, teaching her that 'it's good to be calm'.

To help Bonnie next year, there's a specially designed CD with a soundtrack of fireworks, gunshots and thunderstorms.

This has to be played at a low volume at first, gradually increasing as Bonnie gets used to the sounds. Bonnie will be given praise, attention and rewards for remaining calm and relaxed as the noises go on around her.

After weeks of gradually increasing the volume, the noises will eventually be played very loudly, so that when Bonnie hears the real thing, she is likely to be much less distressed. It's too late to use this system for this year: it has to be done many months in advance of the fireworks season.

Sharon has her own answer for the night of Halloween this year: she's taking Bonnie to stay with her parents in the countryside, far away from the bangs, pops and squeals of the fireworks of urban Ireland.


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