Summer is here! Usually, that means fun in the sun and lots of outdoor activities. But for some of our canine friends, this can be a traumatic time. I am talking about the dogs that are terrified by thunder and fireworks. For severe cases, you should contact a professional dog trainer that specializes in behavior problem solving and maybe even a veterinarian. For cases that are not too severe, here are some steps you can take to help minimize your dog’s anxiety.
First and foremost, please do not leave your dog outside, unattended. He will either escape the yard or hurt himself trying. A crate indoors provides the safest “den” for your dog. The airline-style kennels provide more of a den-like atmosphere and should be placed in an interior room in your house where, hopefully, the thunder won’t bother him as much. If your dog is not crate trained properly, again, please contact a professional.
With regard to the upcoming to the 4th of July fireworks displays, if you can stay home with your dog, please do. This will be the perfect time to teach your dog how to deal with the loud noise. These same methods work equally well with thunderstorms. When you are home with your dog, your actions can make or break his attitude toward the thunder or fireworks. The biggest mistake people make is to hold their dogs and tell them “it is all right.” This “comforting” leads the dog to believe you are also afraid and reinforces his fear. Your comforting may, in the beginning, appear to be working but the first time you are not in the house during a thunderstorm he may go into a sheer panic because no one is there to hold him. What your dog needs is a strong leader. Think of any good war movie where the bombs are going off everywhere and a strong, leader is confidently telling his men what to do. The leader’s confidence is conveyed to his men. Similarly, your dog will sense your confidence and come to believe there is nothing to fear.
I have two methods to help dogs through this trauma. Experiment with both during a thunderstorm or fireworks and you can figure out which one suits your dog better. The first method is to take your dog’s favorite toy or purchase a new toy, and keep put it away. We are only going to bring this toy out during the thunderstorms. When the storm rolls in and your dog shows the first sign of nervousness, get the toy and have a play session. Remember, he hasn’t seen this toy in a while so he will be excited to see it. Don’t sit down and just gently play. Get up and move around the house with him. Every time there is a bang, laugh loudly, throw the toy and play even harder. Enjoy yourself. Let the dog know you are totally confident and at peace with this thunderstorm through laughter and play. Also, if your dog is obsessed with a particular chew toy, put that toy away and only give that to him during the thunderstorms. Still refrain from using soothing tones and no petting while he is shaking. Instead, just give him a “good boy” and go back to watching television or reading the paper. Unless your dog has a particular liking to a chew toy, vigorous play works best. When the storm or fireworks display is over, put the toy away and everything goes back to normal.
The second method requires some prior obedience training for your dog to be able to perform. When the thunder happens, put the dog on a leash and give him a little workout. Walk him around the house. Have him do “sit,” “stay,” and “heel.” Any command your dog knows would be fair game during this time. The leash is important to keep him focused on the commands. The sharper your dog is with obedience commands, the better this method works. If it is a long thunderstorm try both methods. Remember, repetition and consistency is the key to creating habit in dogs. Who knows, by the end of summer, maybe you will have a dog that looks forward to a thunderstorm or two.