DOG AFRAID OF STORMS
QUESTION: I have a 7 year old, spayed, medium sized, mixed breed dog who has always been afraid of bad, noisy storms. I have had her since a pup. She even knows when one is coming! I try to calm her and help her but am wondering what else I can do as she goes half insane?
ANSWER: It is the drop in "Atmospheric Pressure" that alerts an animal to a coming storm, long before we know it. Flashes of bright lightening bother many animals. Plus the noise of course. Dogs are far more sensitive than we are in the hearing department. Also we do not feel the “vibration” from the flash of Lightening, followed by the crack of Thunder, then the Pounding Rain the same as them. That is how sensitive they are.
This scares her. We love our canine friends so we see their fear and react by cuddling, and trying to calm them. What we don't realize is they now firmly begin to think that since my humans also appear to be anxious, (abnormal sound of your voice trying to calm them) then this really, really must be a bad thing happening. With many dogs their fear now intensifies.
Because it has been going on for many years, you may not be able to cure her totally of this. But you certainly can work on it to the extent that she loses some fear.
The second the storm begins, place her leash on her collar. Stand still, (or sit in a chair) forcing her to stand still beside you, or at least stay beside you. Do not look directly at her and do not speak to her at this time. Simply stand/sit there as if you hear nothing, see nothing, know nothing. Once the worst of the storm has passed, wait a few minutes, unsnap the leash and walk away without a backwards glance no matter how much she is panting, trembling, etc. Resume a quiet task such as reading, whatever. Your job is to pretend that not only do you not hear a thing but that you simply do not even realize that she is upset. Amazingly enough, just a few of this, not reacting to her fear will begin to make a difference. But, like I said, this is no longer a fearful pup, but a mature adult who has been doing this for sometime and getting a reaction from the owner each time.
The very second you notice even a bit of improvement, once the worst of the storm has passed for a couple of minutes and she has acted less anxious, begin giving her praise. "Good Girl, Good Girl and a few quick pets. No fussing too much though.
Rules Of Thumb: (1) Stopping Praise For Acting Fearful. Yes, the cuddling is praise for being fearful. (2) Forcing The Dog To Hold It's Ground. Holding the dog beside you while you act completely normal as if you hear nothing. (3) And finally, Praise For Bravery!!!
This does work if the owner can prevent themselves from responding to the dog’s fear even a little bit in their own speech or body language.
And pay a visit to your vet. Explain that you wish to keep some tranquilizer on hand to give her during storms. He will examine her and decide which is the best one to give her. Still, you must couple the tranquilizer with a new change in your own behavior. No more cuddling her for being anxious which only tells her it is okay to act that way.