Although thunderstorms can instill fear, dogs can be trained to manage their reactions and feel calmer through all the noise and bright flashes. Thunderstorms are a common fear in dogs, causing many dogs run away or get lost, become destructive or even hurt themselves. Dogs can sense a storm’s approach by the rapidly barometric pressure, and they can begin to show signs of anxiety even before the storm can be heard.
First it’s important that your dog has a safe place in the house. It might be a crate or a closet or a bathroom. Its best if the place is in the interior of the house and not on an exterior wall. The darker and quieter the safe place the better. You can have quiet music playing there. Classical music such as “Through a Dog’s Ear” can help your dog relax.
It’s also important that your dog is viewing you as the leader. He needs to take his cues from you and if he’s not doing that when everything is calm and relaxed, he’s not going to when he’s excited or stressed. If he isn’t responsive to you, work on your leadership skills first.
Next, get a good recording of thunder. Then, start the process when things are calm and quiet. Teach your dog to go and stay in the “safe” place when there is nothing going on. He needs to be comfortable spending time there by himself. You can leave treats or a favorite toy in the safe place for him. When he goes in there, don’t interact too much with him. You can give him a calm, quiet “Good boy” when he goes in there but the idea is to get him used to going in and relaxing by himself.
Start playing the thunder recording at very low volume, slowly increasing the volume. Watch your dog as soon as you see him start to react, lead him to the safe place and tell him to stay. Again don’t interact with him too much, get him settled down and then just stay nearby.
Once you are able to get him to settle down in the safe place, work on increasing the volume of the recording. Each time he starts to react, lead him to the safe place and get him to settle down. This needs to be done over and over until he goes to the safe place without you directing him and you can play the recording at full volume.
Once he is going to the safe place on his own and remaining calm with the volume all the way up, then you need to work on separating from him or not going near there. Work up to going outside. He will be home, by himself, when the thunderstorms come. So you need to replicate as much as possible the actual situation.
The best time to work on this is before the storm season begins so you have more control of the storms via the recording. If you start the process now, you are likely to have setbacks as the storms will arrive when you are not home, but it’s still worth working on. The only time you can teach your dog is when you are there. There is no magic wand for changing the way he feels when the storms happen. Patience, consistency, remaining calm and taking the time to teach him is the best solution. This process can sometimes be fairly quick, a matter of days, or it may take much longer. Again, only give him praise when he’s calm and relaxed.
Most dogs can learn to not react to the storms, but your dog will only take his directions from you if he views you as his leader. This is where you need to start the process. It typically won’t get better on its own. Help him learn that it’s just noise and nothing for him to worry about. When he learns to relax and remain calm, you can relax and not worry about what he’s doing when you’re not home.
Jeri Wagner is a canine behavioral therapist and master trainer. Jeri uses a natural training system leveraging the same communication methods – body language and voice control – that dogs follow as part of their instinctive pack mentality. Training takes place in the home where the problems generally occur. Jeri trains in western Montgomery County, northern Chester County and eastern Berks County. For more information, call 1-877-500 BARK (2275) or visit www.barkbusters.com.
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