New Years’ Fireworks Coping Mechanisms

Happy 2015! Here’s wishing all you bloggers and visitors out there a joyful and happy 2015! Whether you are staying in for a quiet night with the family, or going out for big New Years’ celebrations, be sure to spare a thought for your furry loved ones who may experience a lot of stress if there are fireworks and noise in the neighbourhood.

Where I live the use of fireworks is thankfully very limited and regulated by the police and city council, but on special occasions there are still some people who shoot off fireworks illegally. Since you do not always have control over this, and might not be able to pinpoint the location of people setting them off, here are a few tips that might help to calm your anxious animals who are afraid of the loud noises:

  • Use herbal anti-anxiety medications such as Calm Eze or Rescue Remedy. Be sure to test it’s effectiveness before hand so that you know what works and in what dosages.
  • Use Vetrinary prescribed anti-anxiety medication. Again, be certain of dosages and only use exactly as prescribed by the Vet.
  • Put a thundershirt on your nervous dog or cat
  • Play calming music or other sounds above the noise of the bangs as a distraction
  • If you are with the dog do something to make them feel less stressed. I personally don’t think that soothing a dog is a terrible thing that teaches them fear is to be indulged – fear is real and soothing calms them. But rather than just coddling them, distract them through play and activities they enjoy
  • Give a Kong that will keep them busy and focussed
  • Keep them in a safe place like their crate or a locked room where they can’t hurt themselves should they get spooked. Many dogs get injured trying to run away from the noises by jumping over fences, through windows etc. On that note, also make sure your pets are tagged and chipped so that if they do manage to escape they can be safely returned as soon as possible.
  • Report any unsafe fireworks to your local authority or City Council. If you are in Pretoria, note that bylaws clearly state under the Explosives Act 26 of 1956. article 10.34: “it is unlawful to discharge any firework in any building on any public thoroughfare or in any public place or resort without prior written permission of the local authority” and “no person may discharge fireworks on any property without the consent of the Chief Fire Safety Officer.” Any complaints can be referred to: Chief Fire Safety Officer Pretoria on (012) 3586255.
Fireworks awareness  poster created by the Animal Anti-Cruelty League Johannesburg.

Fireworks awareness poster created by the Animal Anti-Cruelty League Johannesburg.

May you all have a wonderful, fear fee night for all family members!


Blogtober Day 31: It’s Halloween! What are you wearing?

“You’re just spooked. It’s Halloween; we’re all kind of spooked. That’s just the way it is.”

– Matthew Leeth

It’s that trick or treating time of year! We don’t really need to do the “trick” part of the celebrations, but the “treat” part is a must! We’re a bit undecided as to which costumes are best, why don’t you let us know which ones you like most?

Look 1: Devilishly Mischievous Matching Costumes

Devil Halloween Dogs

Look 2 : Ready for a bewitching fiesta!

dog halloween


Thanks to everyone who followed, liked and commented on the ’31 Day Dog Blogtober Challenge!’ We hope to see you around here again soon!

Blogtober Day 21: Biggest behavioural challenge to overcome

Cooper says:

My biggest behavioural challenge to overcome? Well, I think I’m perfect, but I know that there’s always new things I can learn that will make both me, and my family, even more proud of how far I have come. 😉 I think the Meet ‘n Greet of other dogs is what I struggle most with. I need to learn to greet other dogs in a way that is more socially acceptable.

The signs I need to learn for happy, healthy greetings with other dogs

The signs I need to learn for happy, healthy greetings with other dogs

You see, even though I love having other friends, I learned through my struggles in my previous life before I was rescued that it was important to assert myself as the most important dog in the room before we can get round to the playing business. This means that I need to learn not to rush at dogs, put my head over them and snap if they challenge me. Hopefully through all the (careful) socialising we do in class, and on walks I’ll learn the proper rules of Meeting and Greeting!


Phoebe says:

My issue is similar to Cooper’s in that I have a problem with other dogs, but it’s not just the greeting that’s hard, I’m actually scared of other dogs all the time – not just the first few minutes. This makes me what is called a “Reactive Dog”, so I lash out barking, lunging and trying to fight whenever I see other dogs.

What I look like when I'm scared. Most people confuse this for me being "agressive", but all I want is space!

What I look like when I’m scared. Most people confuse this for me being “aggressive”, but all I want is space!

But Mom and I have been working hard at this, and we continue to work at it. I may never be 100% ok with other dogs, but the progress we’ve made already in the past 2 years is pretty amazing! Mom can even take me on walks and to class with almost no incidents as long as the situation is controlled – you see, Mom has learned the art of desensitising me, distracting me, and keeping me generally in my comfort zone as we learn to get closer to other dogs. As long as they don’t rush at me, I’m even usually ok with them being in my space! Progress!


You can check out the full 31 Day Blogtober Challenge here

Blogtober Day 4: 3 things you want to say to people who annoy you


Phoebe says:

  1. “I really don’t want to hurt your dog, but he’s scaring me. Please listen to my Mom when she tells you to Back. Up.”
  2. “I’m allowed to be here too. My Mom and I are working hard on being ok with other dogs, but I’m unpredictable when scared, that’s why we’re at on ON LEASH ONLY park. Stop being bitchy to my Mom, put a leash on your hyperactive Labrador and Back. the Frack. Up.
  3. Back. the Frack. Up. No really, I mean it! I need lots of space between me and your dog!


Cooper says:

  1. “But Mooooooooom! The roast was just sitting there! It’s soooooo unfair that you’re angry now and adjusting my dinner portion!”
  2. “Why are you yelling at my parents?! Your unleashed Scottish Terrier came bounding up to me! Phoebe and Mom ninja-stealthed out of here because of it, leaving me and Dad a bit confused and worried, so clearly I need to put your scary dog in his place for being so rude!”
  3. ” Not all Rescue Dogs are abused and beyond emotional repair. Sure I have a couple of issues, but not more than the next dog. Don’t be scared, give us a chance. Please?”


You can view the full Blogtober 31 Day Dog Blog Challenge here

Blogtober Day 3: Something you’re afraid of

“There is no illusion greater than fear.”

– Lao Tzu

Cooper says:

I’m a very confident dog who doesn’t have many fears. And if I did, I wouldn’t admit to that on such a public forum! Oh, ok… if I must be honest, I think the thing that scares me most is when my Mom and Dad leave the house. It’s just that ever since I was a puppy I always had food and water, but was left behind and forgotten by my first owner, and then at the kennel I lived in for years the groundsman was a man I loved very much, but he would often leave me alone for 1-3 days on weekends when he went home to visit his family from far away.

My Mom says this is called “Separation Anxiety”. She also says my adoptive sister Phoebe used to have this fear too, but it’s mostly gone now. Hopefully I’ll also find a way to trust that my parents will come home every day without the panic that wells up!

I'm with you on this one McCauley! It's scary to be home alone! I think I would've handled this in a very similar way to how you did!

I’m with you on this one McCauley! It’s scary to be home alone!


Phoebe says:

Luckily I’m not as afraid of everything as I was when I first arrived, but there are still some fears that I just don’t know if I’ll ever overcome. My biggest fear is of other dogs. This means I am defined as being “reactive aggressive” towards any and all other strange dogs, and is often misunderstood by people as me being just being badly behaved, angry and aggressive. Luckily my Mom got help so that we could both find better coping mechanisms when I’m out and about. The progress I’ve made is amazing! I still don’t like other dogs near me when we walk in parks or in the neighbourhood, but at least they can be a bit closer to me, and it takes a lot longer for me to lash out!

My biggest fear! Look at all those dogs!

My biggest fear! Look at all those dogs!


Mom says:

We are constantly hard at work to overcome the fears in the house. Most of this blog chronicles this journey, but for those bookworms out there you can check my posts on the two books I read that really helped with these specific issues:

You can check out the full Blogtober 31 Day Dog Blog Challenge here

Two Dogs and a Dodo

Two Dogs and a Dodo end up in a fracas… No this isn’t the start of a bad  joke, it’s the story about two dogs asserting themselves in a totally appropriate manner, and the silly human who got unnecessarily hurt by poking her nose (or in the case, hand) where it just wasn’t needed! This blog isn’t only a place to share successes, but also failures – especially if those failures are made by the human in the relationship – hopefully someone out there will learn from my mistakes!

The first 48 hours of Cooper’s arrival were not without incident, but we all seem to have survived them with only a few

Cooper enjoying his playdate with Halle

Cooper enjoying his playdate with Halle

hiccups. Cooper was so excited to be at his new home, and there has been lots of excitement, sniffing and general getting-to-know-you’s at home. Sunday morning came and I decided that Phoebe could use some respite from the craziness of having her space invaded, and Cooper came with me for brunch at our local park where we also arranged a playdate with Halle, a friends’ Basset Hound. All went well, and we had a great morning. It was then decided that Cooper and Halle would both come back to my place and we would continue having coffee and a chat at home. Hopefully Phoebe would cope.

Not very surprisingly Phoebe did not respond well to both Cooper coming back home, but him also arriving with ANOTHER unfamiliar dog in tow. I calmed Phoebe, took her to her bed in my room and gave her lots of attention and treats with a gate separating her from the other dogs that were outside. Phoebe seemed to decide that she could accept Cooper, but the new dog set her off everytime she caught a glimpse of her.

An hour or two passed with the occasional brief introduction and fistful of treats all round, and Phoebe slowly calmed down. I then tentatively let her have more free reign, and watched as she seemed to relax around the new arrivals, and decided to lie down next to me as the “grown ups” chatted.

Up until this point I had handled everything really well, and the dogs had been superbly managed in terms of introductions – especially considering that this was an invasion of Phoebe’s home by strange dogs. And then it happened. I did the one thing you should never, ever do… I stopped paying attention to the dogs and their body language. Bad news.

It's important to learn these distinct body language indicators if you have a dog who is in a potentially stressful situation, or is very anxious. It could save both you and your dog!

It’s important to learn these distinct body language indicators if you have a dog who is in a potentially stressful situation, or is very anxious. It could save both you and your dog!

As we were chatting I failed to notice that Cooper had strutted up to Phoebe and that they were engaged in a stare off. Looking back, I also have a vague recollection of hearing some low rumbling and growling, but wasn’t too concerned because they had done this before to test boundaries and both backed down without incident. But then it happened… A huge noise erupted and the two of them were on top of each other with lots of aggressive barking and jumping all over.

In that split second I did the WORST THING POSSIBLE. Instead of remembering everything I’ve learned about dog fights and altercations, I stuck my hand out and tried to pull Phoebe off of Cooper as they were going at it. Yup, you guessed it, the result was that my wayward hand was a casualty in the altercation, and the two dogs quickly quieted down and were happy that they had resolved whatever the issue was.

So who’s the Dodo? Me, that’s who. In that split second after I put my hand in between those powerful jaws and ripped it out, I was already kicking myself for my reaction. Usually I’m one of the best people to have in a panic situation, and manage to keep cool, calm and collected on the outside, no matter what I’m thinking. I have no idea what happened here.

I’m just grateful that this clearly hadn’t escalated to a more “serious” fight, as the bruising shows that they were snapping hard, but had they had an intention to rip flesh the damage each other, I could have ended up with a far worse injury with only myself to blame.

Pictured here: My slightly bruised hand. Not pictured here: My very bruised ego & self confidence as a K9 mommy

Pictured here: My slightly bruised hand.
Not pictured here: My very bruised ego & self confidence as a K9 mommy

Lessons to learn from this story:

  • always keep an eye on your dogs (especially if one of them is anxious and reactive!)
  • Be aware of situations that can trigger stress. In the home this is things like giving too much attention to a newer dog (as happened in my case), only having one toy out, or having feeding bowls too close together. When outdoors triggers can be leash reactivity, over zealous greetings, and resource guarding of toys and balls.
  • Learn to interpret your, and other dogs body language
  • Take heed of any challenging eye contact and growling. These are the best precursors to figuring out that your dog is unhappy and that if the warning isn’t listened to, then the situation will escalate
  • When dogs start snapping and fighting the best thing to do is to distract, distract, DISTRACT (not foolishly stick your hand into the spot where the teeth and jaws are! *ahem*). You’ll learn what distractions work best for your dog, but some suggestions are calling your dog while running in the opposite direction of the perceived threatening dog, making a loud sudden noise by yelling, blowing on a whistle, airhorn etc.
  • Distract with a sudden burst of water from a bucket or hosepipe
  • As a last resort, if a fight has already begun and looks dangerous be sure to check that no children or other dogs are in the potential “firing line”. You can then separate them by lifting the back legs off the ground and backing up in a circular direction. Make sure your grip is good so that you don’t hurt the dog, or have him turn around and snap at you.

Phoebe and/or Cooper’s / Mommy’s (My) Effectiveness Summary:

Issue Addressed: Anxiety, Canine Introductions, Dog Fights

Tool(s) Used: My hands

Cost: Low. Assuming you’re up to date on your own tetanus shots and blood isn’t spilled – then hospital bills can become hefty!

Ease of Implementation: Low. Mistakes generally are easier to make than calm, rash decisions

Phoebe’s Effectiveness Rating: 0/5 for me, 4/5 for the dogs. My reaction was the worst, but the dogs don’t get penalised here for just being dogs. Their reactions were totally warranted, and should have just been managed better by me!

‘Cause you gotta have friends, that’s right, friends, friends.

The time came for one of Phoebe’s biggest fears and challenges to be overcome… the dreaded Play Date! With lots of planning, preparation and a crossed fingers, I decided that Phoebe has come far enough for her to start becoming a little more social, and to trust the presence of other dogs. I’m happy to report another big success! Hooray!

“A Friend In Need” by painter C.M. Coolidge

Phoebe has been doing so well in class, and has slowly learnt that not all dogs are a threat to her. She’s even allowed some dogs to get close to her and allow a lot of sniffing and the occasional walk together for a couple of meters. The trouble seems to start when they look like they’re even thinking of making fleeting eye contact, or if they are exuberant and excited. Her most comfortable situations are with older dogs (because they seem to just ignore her) and puppies (not sure if it’s maternal instinct, or if it’s because they just get bored of her and wander off when she’s unresponsive?).

Overall Phoebe has been making phenomenal progress. In my head I’ even sometimes stopped to wonder if she was ever really so bad that all that fear, stress and tears were warranted. And then I remember – Yup, it was that bad, but the magical thing that has happened here is that we worked (and played) incredibly hard together, progress should be accepted with open arms! And this would be our next big step towards progress: The Play Date.

I had to think long and hard as to what dog would be suitable for Phoebe to meet on her first official play date. Anything could go wrong, I had to carefully consider all the possible outcomes, and control what little that I could. I decided that she would most likely get along best with “Olive”.

Olive. Phoebe's first Play Date buddy!

Olive. Phoebe’s first Play Date buddy!

Olive is the newest Schnauzer puppy of a close friend, and though she’s young, she’s been extremely well socialised with constant visits to other homes, pets and weekly puppy play school classes. Her “Dad” has also been a close friend of mine for many years and has had a keen interest in the trials and tribulations of Phoebe. This was important, because I had to have her with another owner who was fully prepared for the fact that there may be a lot of barking and snarling without panicking about the situation at hand.

Finally the night arrived. Olive was running late, and I felt like an awkward teenager preparing for a first date. The treats were all perfectly cut up and arranged in order from “Most Prized” to “Least Prized”, water bowls were filled and constantly moved to be perfectly placed on the tiles, I kept brushing Phoebe’s hair and coat telling her how pretty she was, and dog beds and pillows were fluffed and scattered around the house. Then the bell rang, I took a deep, calming breath and let the visitors in for the play date.

At first Phoebe was happy to see her old friend arrive at the house, but the moment she realised that there was a fluffy companion accompanying him she was not impressed. The sudden barking and lunging took me by surprise, but we both recovered quickly, and a few minutes of distraction and treat games helped Phoebe to relax a bit, and start to think the situation may just be a good one.

I then took Olive in my arms and allowed Phoebe to get closer and closer to sniff. All the while her calm curiosity was awarded with her favourite treats, and I was constantly chatting to her to reassure her that she was doing a good job. Over the course of a few minutes the dogs were allowed to roam around the house and garden freely, and every time they got close to each other treats and praise were showered over them. After an hour or two they were both exhausted from running around and playing, and they both collapsed on the dog beds next to us as we sat in the living room catching up on the latest news and gossip in each others’ lives.

Exhausted after the playdate, Phoebe and Olive go to sleep and cuddle for warmth

Exhausted after the playdate, Phoebe and Olive go to sleep and cuddle for warmth

I’m happy to say that Phoebe’s first official Play Date with a new friend went swimmingly well, and I look forward to arranging more play dates with Olive and other dogs, and ultimately finding Phoebe a doggy partner she will be comfortable and happy with!

Phoebe’s Effectiveness Summary:

Issue Addressed: Socialisation, Fear

Tool(s) Used: Basic Obedience, Treats and Praise

Cost: Low. If your dog is well socialised, all you need to do is keep setting up play dates! This can be at home, in parks, going for picnics etc

Ease of Implementation: Easy to Moderate. Once you know what signs to look for, and can implement your knowledge of training and body language this becomes easier and easier. The fact that I knew how to read Phoebe’s level of discomfort and when to distract and engage her saved a lot of stress and avoided a potentially explosive situation.

Phoebe’s Effectiveness Rating: 4/5. It took a long time for Phoebe to feel 100% comfortable and to leave my side, but once she did she was calm and accepted the situation. I think if the puppy was more playful it would have been more difficult, but because the puppy was tired she was happy to snuggle at bed time.


How have you handled the first Play Date situation? Any advice for me on arranging future Play Dates?