Dogs and Thunder - Thwart your puppy’s anxiety with the very first storm
Last night we had a really bad thunder and lightning storm here in Florida. There was actually a tornado that touched down not too far away from us. Both my pup, Nellie, and I were a little nervous to say the least.
This was not only the first time that Nellie heard thunder, but it may actually have been the first time she’s seen rain! She came to me in October, after the rainy season in Florida. And now this wasn’t any ordinary storm. Bolts of lightning lit up the room and huge booms of thunder shook the entire house.
Once again I was reminded of how much easier it is to AVOID unwanted fears and behaviors from the beginning rather than trying to back-peddle and fix problems later on.
I am in a very lucky position to have a young pup to whom I can introduce the world (and thunderstorms) in a positive way.
I promise to write a more in-depth post on how to help your dog if they already have “storm phobia” or otherwise are afraid of loud noises. But for now, let me share what to do if you have a puppy or new dog and want to be sure that they don’t develop a fear in the first place.
First the “Don’ts”
- Don’t pick up, hug, pet, or cuddle your dog – There has been a growing trend in some circles of dog people that advocate comforting your dog when they are afraid. And I will say that when little Nellie came running over to me at the first BOOM I wanted more than anything to hug her and tell her everything was going to be OK. It’s human nature. However, in my 18 years of being a professional dog trainer, I have seen humans mess up their poor dogs over and over again by trying to use their human psychology on another species! Dogs don’t understand the words you are saying. They only understand that you are petting and and talking sweet them. To a dog, that is praise. Period. Praise for whatever they are doing at the time. Remember “You Get What You Pet.” Petting a fearful dog will incite more fear, regardless of what it means to you.
- Don’t try to distract your dog with treats – Now, there is nothing wrong with practicing some obedience commands and rewarding your happy, willing dog with food. But, treats are an even bigger reinforcer than petting . It is very easy to unconsciously reward the wrong behavior and a stressed state of mind.
- Don’t ignore your dog-not at this stage at least. Dogs with thunder phobia may need a hiding place. But when you have a puppy who is just becoming accustomed to storms, letting him run and hide is going to make things worse. However, if you are one of the lucky people whose dog doesn’t seem to care at all about a storm then it’s perfectly fine (and actually better) to just ignore him and not make a big deal out of things.
Now the Do’s
- Do talk silly. Maybe sing a song and play a game with your puppy. Be sure that your voice is happy and fun. Telling your pup “It’s OK…Relax…Good dog” in a low, “soothing” voice will only make your dog more suspicious of things. A higher pitched, happier, fun tone will keep things light and help your dog to relax. We want to sound and act as if everything is just hunky dory.
- Do practice your dog’s obedience commands – This is not the time for strict, military-style training. Keep it light and fun. And again, it’s fine to use a food reward here IF your dog is focused on you and not on the storm.
- Do try to block out the noise - play music, turn up the volume on the TV, etc. Shutting the blinds and building an oasis in the livingroom might help as well.
- If your puppy is still too stressed to focus, then you may need to allow him to retreat to what he considers a safe place. This may be his crate, the bathroom, or perhaps a closet. Attempt to block out the signs of what’s going on outside by keeping it as dark and quiet as possible for him while he’s in “riding out the storm”.
Hopefully, by taking steps to make storms a fun and exciting time for your puppy you can prevent problems with your dogs and thunder.
Do you have any suggestions on how to help your pup stay confident during a thunderstorm? I’d love to hear them!
More about Lisa Flynn on Google+
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