And The Thunder Rolls:
Dog Training Matthews NC | Dana Brigman, The K9 Coach
Summer comes with thunder, lightening and fireworks which can be frightening for puppies and adults alike. It can send your dog running for the covers or shaking under the table. There are options to help you create peace for your pooch.
If you are raising a puppy, the first time they experience these events may be highly stressful. Your reaction to the event is key. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Ignore the storm and go about your normal activities. If you’re outside when it pops, calmly head back for the house. Make no dramatic fanfare about the noise, wind or rain.
We all want to snuggle up with them, but DO NOT pet your dog at this time. Just placing your hand on their back can be comforting, but you do not want to stroke or pet, as this reinforces their state of mind.
Keep your voice calm but not soothing. They may associate your empathy with getting a “reward” from you for being stressed out.
Offer a distraction like playing a game with them and make it fun. Spend a few minutes working on simple obedience skills that earn them yummy treats that are reserved ONLY for thunder/fireworks training. Keep them occupied with something far more enjoyable that trembling in fear.
It’s a little more challenging when you take in an adult who has fear issues with thunder, lightening and fireworks or when you discover that your dog has become fearful “suddenly”. Perhaps something happened before your adoption/foster, or perhaps even while you were not home during an event. Many people use wraps like the ThunderShirt ™. These tools be highly effective when used properly.
When using a wrap, you can’t just put it on the dog during the event and pray that it works. It is advisable to introduce the dog to the wrap well in advance of it’s use by letting them smell it, touch it, perhaps even sleep with it in their crate for a day or two. Then when the dog is in a very calm state of being, begin to put it on them. You may even offer treats to do so. Then take it off promptly. Gradually, working in incremental stages to 10, 20, 30, 60 minutes of wear. This helps the dog become accustomed to the process of putting the wrap on, so that when a storm is forecasted you can get it on with ease, well in advance of the storm arrival. It is highly recommended that you do not leave your dog home alone during the first few storms they are wearing the wrap. You want to monitor it’s effectiveness and your presence as you go about normal activities and perhaps some game play will help them stay in a calm state of mind.
You might also try music as a rehabilitation tool. You can find CD’s from dog trainers targeted at Thunder and Firework desensitization. You can also find spa music to download from your music marketplace — just look for piano based music with thunder in the background. Again, while the dog is calm and no storm on the horizon begin playing the music on a low volume. You can do this while working on your laptop, household chores, etc. Many dogs will simply sleep through it. You may get a ear perk or two if it’s too loud to start. Say nothing and lower the volume. Play it daily, and gradually increase the volume.
It may at times be necessary to also consider holistic remedies or prescribed medication if the other treatments don’t work effectively enough. I like to use essential oils (Visit My Oils Page) to create a sense of calm and an association of scent with calming experiences. You should imprint the oil, long before the storm arrives — otherwise, the association with the scent may be with a bad experience.
Chamomile Tea, Lavender, Calming Collars etc may all be helpful. Melatonin can be too — check with your vet if your dog is on any prescription meds to verify there won’t be any adverse interactions. And be sure to check proper dosage for your dog’s weight/age, etc.
The first storm or two may not be perfect, but my Great Dane who has been afraid of storms, will now go outside while the thunder rolls to go potty if necessary. I don’t make her do that, but she will.
If these training plans don’t have sufficient results in a reasonable period of time, it may be necessary to discuss prescription meds for anxiety with your veterinarian.
Added Safety Considerations:
If your dog is easily spooked by loud noises, be sure they are on leash if you must go outside. Be sure the collar they wear is secure. That is to say, not big enough they can back out of it, won’t break under pressure (plastic clips), etc Be sure they are not able to bolt out open doors, open gates, or even windows! And be sure they will not scale your fence — so a normal potty break may need to be on leash for safety.
With fearful dogs, be sure they are microchipped and that your mobile phone is on their ID tag.
Still having trouble with your dog in the storm? Have you had success with wraps? Let us her from you.
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June 2016 Update: we use and distribute Young Living Oils now. Call us for Details.