By Nancy Cope
Dogs are known to fear storms. But if you make simple adjustments, you can help your dog overcome storm fears.
Thunder and other loud noises such as firecrackers, guns, and exploding balloons will cause them to whine, hide and seek protection near their owners.
Most puppies, once they realize that the noises will do them no harm, adjust to these disturbances and pretty much ignore them.
Some take their cues from the owners. If the owner is calm, the dog will relax. If the owner is panicky, the dog will react accordingly and exhibit anxious behavior.
Some dogs do not have the opportunity, when puppies, to experience these noises or events, and do not become conditioned over time. These unconditioned dogs, and others that have not become conditioned despite exposure, can have their reactive behavior successfully reconditioned by their owners.
Dogs can be taught to treat many loud noises as simple distractions, much as young children, initially afraid of thunder, come to enjoy the experience as they mature and realize that they are not harmed by it. Dogs are not concerned about the storm, they respond only to the loud noise. The owner can condition the dog to loud noises in general by simulating them and rewarding positive reactions from the dog.
One method is to clap your hands loudly. Some recommend popping a small balloon. The dog may be startled, but immediately the owner should praise the dog and offer it a small treat. That helps shows that the noise isn’t scary and can help the dog overcome storm fears.
Eventually, as this process is repeated, the dog will begin to enjoy the experience as a game, and will no longer fear that source of noise. Once the dog comes to accept the noise, repeat the noise for a time without the reward. Eventually the dog will show little reaction to the sound.
Veterinarians and experienced owners claim that most animals, including dogs, can sense an approaching storm by the changes in atmospheric pressure. When the weather report warns of an impending thunder storm, noise training as described above can be repeated before the storm breaks. If the dog is adapted to the manufactured noise, he may transfer that experience to the thunder.
Some dogs will not adapt. Their fear, if they were human, would be considered irrational. Sedatives are available from you veterinarian that can help the dog to experience the storm with minimal anxiety.
If drugs are used, the owner should not depend upon them as a permanent solution, and should continue with attempt to change the dog’s reaction through training. Eventually, and that can seem a very long time to some owners, most dogs will adapt to the loud noises, and even those that react irrationally will usually exhibit no harmful effects after the storm is over. One way or another, training or ongoing loving support will get your dog safely through life’s storms.
Nancy Cope is the owner of four rescue dogs and Pampered Dog Gifts.