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Dogs Fear of Thunderstorms

Spring and summer are times of year that can be difficult for some pets and their owners. While most dogs are fine with thunderstorms, others are downright traumatized. With symptoms ranging from barking when they hear a thunderclap, to severe hysteria, chewing or self-injury, this can be a serious problem for both the dog and his owner.

One of the biggest difficulties in overcoming a thunderstorm phobia is that you can’t always predict when there will be one. Sometimes they occur when you’re home and can work with your pet, but other times they’re in the middle of the night or while you’re not home.

The first step is to work on some basic obedience commands with your dog. This will help build his confidence in general while also teaching the meanings of “no” and “good dog.” In addition, you’ll be able to use the obedience commands to teach your dog that even during thunderstorms he can behave “normally.”

Next, you’ll need to purchase a thunderstorm CD or cassette. Ironically, these are found in the relaxation section of any place that sells music. You’ll be using the CD to desensitize your dog to the sound of the thunderstorms.

In the beginning, play the CD on extremely low volume as background noise while you go about your day-to-day activities around your home. If your dog acts afraid, gently tell him “no,” and redirect to a more appropriate behaviour, such as doing some obedience commands or playing ball. Gradually increase the volume until you’re able to work with your dog during a more realistic sounding storm.

The most important part of this exercise is to make sure you don’t accidentally praise your dog while he’s afraid. If you pet your dog in an attempt to soothe him, instead of feeling soothed he will feel as if you’re saying “good boy, acting afraid is good.” Instead, use a gentle “no” and redirect as described above. You may need to use his leash to help him.

Another important factor is your own behaviour during real storms. If you act anxious, your pet will pick up on it and think he should be anxious too. Refrain from constantly checking the weather on television, peering out windows, etc.

Atmospheric pressure may be an additional trigger. It can help to work with your dog during regular rain as well, so he can learn under less severe circumstances that this is an acceptable weather condition.

Last but not least, be sure to confine your dog to a safe area such as a crate if you won’t be home. This will likely comfort your pet because he’s in his own special safe place, plus will keep him and your belongings safe should he become upset while you’re out.

By following these steps, your pet is likely to improve dramatically. These tips can also be applied to fireworks phobia as well. Working with an educated, experienced trainer can help too. By practicing with your dog in advance, hopefully both you and your dog can rest more easily next time there is a storm!