Fireworks And Dogs – Dealing With Anxiety This Bonfire Season

With Bonfire Night becoming a bigger celebration year on year with fireworks displays now stretching out over several weeks, it can be a terribly stressful time for some dogs.

This is the nosiest time of the year in the UK with Halloween costumes, loud bangs and flashes taking over the streets and skies… all of which can make it a highly stressful time for dogs.

All dogs will respond differently and over the years we have tried and tested various remedies to help one of our dogs (Peanut) to minimise her anxieties and wanted to share these with you.

MAKNG YOUR DOG FEEL SAFE (low level anxiety)

  • Create a den for your dog to relax and feel safe in. This could be a crate covered in blankets where they can retreat to if they feel scared
  • Distract your dog by having your TV or radio on loud to help block out the noises from fireworks
  • Close all windows and blinds/curtains to minimise noise and flashes from fireworks
  • Walk your dog before dusk so that they can relieve themselves before fireworks start as you will want to avoid letting them in your garden during neighbouring fireworks displays to prevent them from being suddenly shocked by the noises
  • Avoid over-fussing your dog so as not to reinforce their anxiety. Speak in a normal tone and remain calm and cheerful
  • Distract your dog with long lasting treats such as kongs and bully sticks


  • ThunderSHIRT Dog Anxiety Vest – these can be a valuable tool for dogs who suffer anxiety – they are designed to exert gentle, constant pressure likened to infant swaddling
  • Adaptil Spray and Plug-in; this dog appeasing pheromone has proven to have a comforting effect on both puppies and adult dogs during stressful situations. Please note that these need to be used for several weeks in the build up to Bonfire Night in order to be effective
  • Many companies offer Sound CD’s to help to desensitise dogs to various noises, including fireworks. These should be used in advance of Bonfire Night to introduce dogs to these noises in a controlled way – play the CD on a low volume and feed treats to your dog as a way to distract them before increasing the volume slightly and repeating the process

HERBAL REMEDIES (high-level anxiety)

  • Dortwest Herbs Scullcap and Valarian Tablets – a herbal remedy to calm and relax dogs who suffer from phobias or apprehension. These do not cause drowsiness or impair normal behaviour or performance
  • Chill Drops – a natural alternative to help calm stressed or anxious dogs containing Valerain Root, Hoodwort, Camomile, Wild Sage and Organic Cider Vinegar
  • CDB Oil – a herbal aid to calm both humans and dogs
  • Rescue Remedy – a herbal aid to calm both humans and dogs


Puppies: Excitement And Submissive Urination

Does your puppy wee each time you come home, each time greet him or her in the morning, each time you make their breakfast/lunch/dinner or each time visitors come to visit? Well, welcome to the club!

Puppies generally under the age of one don’t yet have complete control over their bladders and although you may be making good progress with house-training your pup, they may not be able to control their bladders when they are excited or nervous.   Don’t worry, this is something they will grow out of… with a little help from us!

Recommendations if you have an excitement urination problem:

  • Don’t greet your puppy in an excitable way! By doing so, you may inadvertently reinforce the problem. Instead, stay calm – this means no squealing ‘OMG I missed you too!’, no picking up cuddling or petting your puppy if they are excitable and definitely no high-pitched baby talk! Step away from the cute puppy!
  • Ignore your puppy until he or she is calm
  • Take your puppy outside immediately to limit the chances they will excitement wee indoors
  • Once they toilet outside praise them and then make a fuss over them… they did a good thing!
  • If visitors come to your home, ensure your puppy has emptied its bladder very soon before the visitor’s arrival (take them for a short walk to encourage them to do so). Ask your visitors to ignore your puppy when they first arrive and then take the puppy outside where visitors can greet him or her (to avoid any accidents indoors)

A little less common is when puppies perform submission urination if they are nervous and you’ll notice the difference between this and excitement urination; submission urination can occur when a visitor enters their home, when they meet an unfamiliar dog or in any situation which they feel nervous about.  So in many ways, this is the opposite of excitement urination and so it is usually very easy to spot the difference.

Recommendations if you have a submission urination problem:

  • Ignore your puppy if they have an accident indoors. Telling them in a soothing voice that it is ok will only reinforce their feelings of nervousness
  • Never scold a puppy who suffers from submission urination as you’ll end up making the puppy more nervous. Just ignore the mess and clean it up when your puppy isn’t watching
  • Make a note of what situations make your puppy submissively urinate and then try to avoid putting your puppy in these. For example, if visitors coming to your home results in your puppy submissively urinate then arrange to greet visitors outside your door with your puppy before entering your home all together
  • Reward your puppy for urinating outside and constantly give them praise to build their confidence

Above all else, patience is key! Puppies don’t have full control of their bladder so please don’t expect a young puppy to hold its bladder for too long and always make frequent visits outside to keep your puppies bladder as empty as possible.  You may have days or weeks on end without any accidents and then feel deflated when your puppy has one, but this is perfectly normal so don’t beat yourself up and obviously don’t scold your puppy.  So long as your puppy is toiling outdoors more often than they are indoors then you’re on the right track.

It’s a problem which you and your puppy need to work at as a partnership; if your puppy has an accident indoors then this could have been prevented by you taking them outside 5 minutes before so remember this next time and make that extra trip outside with them, praise them when they urinate and then bring them back indoors.  You’ll soon be in sync with your puppies toileting and will know when they last urinated, how much they’ve drunk since and when they should be ready to go outside again… don’t presume that they will always tell you when they need to go out as it takes persistent training and time for a puppy to learn to always ‘ask’ to go outside… so just give them a little helping hand to succeed!

Good luck!

Dealing With Separation Anxiety

When I used to do puppy training classes a common question which owners used to ask was ‘my puppy was playing with another puppy and it looked really aggressive – how can I tell if they were just playing?’

Puppy play, or even dog play for that matter can look aggressive! Dogs play with each other by biting, nipping, barking and rough housing with each other, but this doesn’t mean that they are being aggressive.  If you take photos of dogs playing you may be slightly disconcerted to see how aggressive dog play actually looks!  I’m a keen dog photographer and have a plethora of photos of dogs in play with their teeth bared looking aggressive! But we must remember that dogs play with their mouths and so what may look like fighting may well actually just be dogs enjoying a good play session.

For puppies, the easiest way to determine if the play is escalating to them being over-aroused and it potentially turning defensive/aggressive is to restrain the puppy who looks like he’s being a bit over zealous and seeing if the other puppy still comes back for more.  If the unrestrained puppy was becoming nervous then they will retreat and move away from the restrained puppy.  And if they were actually enjoying the play session and return for more, then you can simply let them continue.

Puppy and dog play can sometimes lead to over-arousal and then one dog may become defensive if it’s feeling overwhelmed or just wants a break.  Again, you can just call back the instigator to give both dogs a time-out to defuse the situation and prevent it from escalating.  All dogs will have different play styles – some will be constantly moving forward towards the dogs they want to play with and some will move forward and backwards in a fluid motion… this is the best form of play as it allows for natural breaks.

It is really important to watch the body language of both dogs to ensure they are both comfortable with the play and to use a reliable recall if you think it’s getting too much for either dog.

With puppies it is especially important for them to learn how to play with adult dogs.  Those of you who have owned your dogs from puppies will know that some, if not most, adult dogs do not tolerate puppies!  Puppies can be incredibly annoying to the typical adult dog as they are constantly aroused and want to play and essentially get in the adult dogs face.  It also takes a while for puppies to actually learn what it means when an adult dog growls at them to tell them off.  I remember from my own experience my puppy trying to play with a Jack Russell on a lead in the common and this dog snarling and snapping at her and she just thought this was great fun and continued trying to play! I managed to call my puppy away from the dog before she potentially got injured but I did understand that she just hadn’t picked up on this dog’s unwillingness to play with her.  And this can be a steep learning curve for most puppies!

So it’s really important to keep your puppy safe from adult dogs while they learn what is the appropriate way to play and interact with others to avoid you puppy being constantly told off by other dogs.  However, this telling off process is crucial to their development so there is a fine line between being over-protective of your puppy and allowing it too much freedom to get itself into trouble!  So when you’re next out with your dog or puppy, carefully monitor any play sessions and learn to read the body language of both dogs and if in any doubt, call your puppy or dog back to you, or retrain the dog who you think may be getting over-aroused and see how the other dogs responds… are they relieved or do they still want to continue the play.  We can analyse dog behaviour but dogs are much quicker and smarter than us and they way they communicate with each other is often too subtle for the human eye to see, so let them decide… with your guidance and over-seeing eye!

Living With A Nervous Dog

Each time I go for a walk I spend a lot of my time observing dog behaviour – in my own group but also in other dogs… I just find it fascinating.  I believe you can learn a lot about dogs by just watching their own behaviour and interaction with their owners but also their behaviour and interactions with other dogs, particularly dogs which are unfamiliar to them.  And they always amaze me…

Most dogs meet other dogs quite naturally whilst on their walk… they’re happy to go over and say hello and meet a new friend; their body is fluid and relaxed and they can easily sense when another dog doesn’t want to meet them and will then walk away.  If you think about it, your dog will generally meet quite a few unfamiliar dogs every day on every walk and for the most part, dogs which are used to this routine will cope incredibly well.  However, if you happen to have a nervous or timid dog then just taking them for a walk can be quite stressful.  We’ve all seen those dogs in the park which bark incessantly at our dogs, the dogs which are on a lead on their walk and pull and lunge at other dogs while the owner gets embarrassed and pulls them away, whilst apologising to the other dog owner.  To the untrained eye, most people will wrongly assume this dog is aggressive.  This is a common misconception and I hope everyone can take away some understanding on this topic from this blog post.

Did you know that the loudest dogs are often the most fearful? Did you know that dogs who are on a lead may actually be on a lead for a reason? Did you know that the reason may be because they can’t cope with meeting unfamiliar dogs and so the lead acts as a support and barrier for the responsible dogs owner?  This is why when you see a dog on a lead you should always place your dog on a lead too… or at least ensure that your dogs recall is reliable enough to keep your dog from approaching the on-lead dog.  It saddens me when I see dogs on lead who are clearly fearful and other owners allowing their dogs to charge over to them to say hello and who always say ‘don’t worry, my dog is friendly!’  That may well be the case, but what about the fearful dog who is on a lead and has nowhere to escape to?   Do you think it wants to meet your dog?  This can be an incredibly daunting experience for them… and for their owner who is responsible enough to place their fearful dog on a lead in the first place, they are just hoping for a quiet and enjoyable walk with their dog.

Some dogs are genetically born with the predisposition to be nervous and some dogs become this way because of a bad experience with another dog or group of dogs.  From my own personal experience, I took home the ‘runt’ of the litter – tiny, nervous and who needed a lot of nurturing.  My puppy was terrified of absolutely everything and simple things like going out for her first post-vaccination walk, which should have been a milestone and something to celebrate, left her petrified to the point of shaking and drooling.  Now this is not ‘normal’ but it was certainly an eye-opener and having come full-circle with her I am now especially sensitive when I see other dogs behaving in a nervous way and want to help them too.   They are just crying out for help and guidance.

Everyone who has owned multiple dogs in their life will know that each and every dog is different, no matter what breed they are and if you’re ‘lucky’ enough to have a nervous dog, they will teach you so much if you really pay attention to their body language and behaviours.  I say ‘lucky’ because these dogs will teach you more than any ‘normal’ dog ever will.  For those of you who own a well-balanced and sociable dog, don’t take this for granted… in my experience it is a rare thing!

I spent a considerable amount of time and effort (and still do) managing my dogs nervousness and building her confidence to the point that I engrossed myself in canine behaviour and actually quit my job and made a career change focussed on dogs.  Everything I did was for my dog to ensure she was happy and within her comfort zone… the last thing I wanted was to have a fearful dog who then became aggressive as there is a very fine line between the two.  Each walk was focussed on watching her body language and helping her to move away from things which she was nervous of (plastic bags in hedges, dogs charging towards her, people running in florescent clothing… the list was endless!) And by doing this, I built up an incredible bond with my dog.

I attended several seminars and undertook courses in canine behaviour so I could understand and recognise potential ‘threats’ and the right way to manage this and now I use this in my every day life working with dogs.  The good old ‘flight, fight, freeze, avoid’ theory is just a start but it’s so true… how many times have you observed two dogs meeting and one of them freezing while the other sniffs around it?  The ‘frozen’ dog then shakes and runs back to its owner?  This is not a nice meeting for the dog who froze and they didn’t take anything away from this meeting… they were just put in a really uncomfortable situation and the more this happens, the more the dog will learn that freezing doesn’t help the ‘scary dog’ move away and so they try a new tactic of either flight; running away or fight; where they may bark or scowl to tell the dog to move away.  The problem here is that if they realise that barking and scowling actually works then they will use this again and again… and here we have ‘the aggressive dog’ who is then placed on a lead in the park.  Most people won’t recognise that these dogs aren’t actually aggressive but that they have just learnt to use aggression as a way to avoid situations which they find uncomfortable or daunting and it’s the owners job to help to recognise this and to remove their dog from the situation.

The amount of dog owners I know whose dog has been attacked and then become fearful afterwards is overwhelming.  These are the owners who now get up very early in the morning to walk their dog so that they can enjoy their walk and not worry about encountering other dogs which may set their fearful dog off.  For those of us living in London, this is no mean feat… dog are everywhere and many owners don’t recognise that just because their dog is friendly, all other dogs don’t want to meet it.

When I’m out walking I always watch the body language of other dogs to ascertain if they are indeed friendly and if they want to meet my dogs.  If they look stiff and uncomfortable as we approach, then I change direction and move my group away… why would I knowingly put my group into a situation which may result in them being snapped at? I just wouldn’t.  So whether you have a nervous dog or a super sociable one, when you’re out on your next walk, be a little sensitive to the dogs you may meet and please place your dog on a lead, or call them back to you if they start running up to a dog on a lead… your dog may be friendly but the poor dog is on a lead for a reason and the owner is clearly trying to work on its confidence levels.  And if you have a nervous dog, don’t force them into situations and really take the time to understand their coping thresholds and what their triggers are… and then avoid putting them in fearful situations and work (at a distance) to build their confidence and their recall.  Because every dog deserves to enjoy their walk and being able to read canine body language and understand it is truly an incredible thing.