Preventing Behavior Problems in Dogs and Puppies
Preventing Your Dog or Puppy From Being Afraid of Thunder Storms
BANG! For many years when I heard the crack of thunder I knew I was going to be in for a long night (or day). My golden retriever, Theo, had developed thunder phobia in 2001. I don’t mean he was a little nervous when he heard the rumbles of a storm, I mean Theo wanted to dig to China, crawl inside me, eat his way out of the house, and at times I thought he was just going to explode! It was awful. Awful on him, me, and the entire family.
Theo has since passed (2009), and to this day my fingers still start to tingle with a bit of anxiety when I hear that first boom. But then I look down at Dexter snoozing away, oblivious to it all, and I can go back to sleep.
In last month’s blog post, No Worries, I touched on preventing behavioral problems in your puppy. This post will focus on preventing thunder phobia in your puppy, or newly adopted adult dog. This is not to address issues for a dog who already has anxiety associated with storms. If your dog is afraid of thunderstorms, please read this post.
Prevention, prevention, prevention! I say it all the time to my dog training students. When you are blessed with a dog or puppy who does not have an issue with a common behavior problem, reward that response and build on that. Students often say, “But he’s fine in a storm.” I’m thrilled, I really am, but we need to keep that behavior strong. We are building habits and emotional responses to things (storms in this lesson), so it takes a lot of repetition to get our famous Pavlov response working. Thunder phobia, I personally think, is one of the hardest behavioral issues to treat in dogs. Particularly if you live in a place where storms are frequent. Unfortunately. we cannot tell the storm, “Okay, that’s enough, not so loud” and control the intensity like we can when a dog is saying reactive around other dogs. We can control that situation.
Preventing thunder anxiety in dogs doesn’t take a lot of work on your part. It does take a bit of planning and good timing on your execution. It is a multipronged approach. I will outline just some of the things you can do to prevent this devastating anxiety in your dog.
Preventing Thunder Phobia In Dogs Exercise #1
- Always work below your dog’s anxiety levels. If you see any signs of anxiety (darting eyes, panting, restlessness, clinginess, etc.), it’s too much. You need to make it less stressful (usually quieter).
- Get some high-value treat rewards. High-value is something your dog goes crazy over. I usually start with looking for meat products. I tend to do cooked chicken, salmon, steak….we need to make a real impact here. Not just a regular dog biscuit.
- Find various recorded storm sounds. You can purchase thunderstorm CDs or use my favorite these days, YouTube. One important aspect here is to make sure you use different tracks, so it’s different at each lesson.
- Be normal. Don’t let your dog see you grab the high-value dog treats and prepare your thunderstorm recording. Try not to make it a big deal about your setup. You want it to feel real.
- Turn your recording on very, very low. I don’t want you to scare your dog! Be ready. As soon as you hear a little rumble, toss your dog a tiny piece of treat (high-value, don’t forget). Repeat with the next rumble. Don’t worry if now your dog is at your feet. You can smile at him, but just keep tossing the treats when you hear that rumble or boom! Even if he starts to offer other behaviors, barking, sitting, shaking, you are just going to ignore those.
- Repeat this process as often as you can think about it. Try changing locations/rooms and don’t forget to change that track! You don’t always have to be sitting down either to do it. Remember we want your dog to think this is normal.
Preventing Thunder Phobia In Dogs Exercise #2-The Real Deal
Ok, the real storm (or hopefully just a little rain and rumble) is here! Just like in your previous exercises, we are conditioning your dog that the rumbles and booms of thunder predict good things. Crazy good things! Each rumble….toss a treat. Just like before. The difference is, you won’t be able to predict how loud those booms are going to be. So, if it’s pretty loud, I usually jackpot. Treat, treat, treat. Wow!
What if this storm is happening at 3am? Yes, you guessed it, I grab the peanut butter jar and give a lick after each rumble. Sidebar-in puppyhood, or when you just adopt an adult dog, I highly recommend watching the weather stations to know when those storms are going to happen. Again, you want to be prepared. Believe me, doing this at 3am a few times is worth it. If your dog develops thunder phobia, you WILL be up at 3am for storms…Alternative Rewarding System. There have been dogs who respond well to a good game of play during a storm as a way of prevention. However, I typically prefer to do more rewarding after a boom, and maybe some play pre- and post-storm. But if you have a crazy play driven dog, this may be a good route. The same goes for a continual reward during a storm like chewing on a high value stuffed Kong. But again, we are not targeting the booms quite as much. But I have been known to reward for booms for say 1/2 hour, then give a Kong for the remainder of the storm and toss meat for booms too!
Is your dog or cat afraid of storms? Tell me in the comments.
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