Oh no! You hear the tell tale signs! That all familiar rumble of an impending thunderstorm. You panic as you're at work and your dog is at home and you know how he's afraid of thunderstorms. This is the type of reaction I used to have when a thunderstorm approached. One of our dogs was extremely afraid of thunderstorms and would inevitably soil the room where he stayed during the day and experience considerable anxiety when one approached.. Is there something you can do to help your dog overcome his fear of thunderstorms? Here is a solution suggested to me by my vet which worked for my dog and will probably work for yours.
- Purchase a realistic recording of a thunderstorm. You can usually buy these at a store that sells CD's or a like Sharper Image where they sell CD's designed to help you sleep more soundly by playing sounds. (Yeah, like my dog's really going to sleep well with a thunderstorm CD playing!)
- Locate a rug, blanket, pad or other item your dog would think of as belong to him and being a protected place for him to rest.
- Have him lie down on his "safe pad" and reward him with a small dog cookie.
- Turn on the thunderstorm recording on very low volume while your dog relaxes on his pad. Every few minutes that he remains on the pad, give him a bite of cookie.
- If your dog attempts to leave his safe place due to fear, turn the recording off and coax him gently back to the pad again. Give him a bite of cookie.
- Keep playing the tape until your dog successfully stays on his pad for the full recording, rewarding him every few minutes.
- Only reward your dog when he is calm. Never when he's showing signs of anxiety.
- Keep repeating this process every few days, playing the thunderstorm recording a bit louder each time. Repeat the reward system.
- Once your dog has acclimated to the recording, try playing it when he's carrying out his routine activities such as eating dinner.
- As a final step, try playing the recording and leaving the house for a few minutes while it's playing. Reward your dog upon your return if he appears calm.
This system will allow your dog to gradually become desensitized to the sounds of a thunderstorm. You may have to repeat this scenario periodically to reinforce the behavior. It's important to never reward your dog when he's in an anxious state, only when he's calm. If your dog becomes agitated during the recording or during a real storm, speak calmly to your dog, but don't overindulge him. This will reinforce his anxious state.
This technique was quite effective in helping our dog overcome his fear of thunderstorms. Hopefully, it'll work for your canine too. If not, you may want to consult with your vet to see if your dog would benefit from an anti-anxiety medication for his thunderstorm phobia.