As the humidity increases so does the frequency of those epic afternoon storms.
As Queenslanders, we are no stranger to an electrical storm or rolling thunder, in fact many of us love it. Someone that may not be as thrilled about an impending storm is our four-legged companions. In 2020, many owners may find themselves frantically checking weather apps and desperately trying to get home from work before their dog digs out of the yard, jumps a fence or destroys the outdoor furniture. Storm phobias in our dogs is becoming an ever increasing problem.
While there are many dogs that could not care less about thunder, others can become incredibly stressed, fearful and anxious. You may have noticed your dog excessively pant, pace, tremble or salivate, indicating signs of a storm phobia.
At Found By The Hound, we believe that prevention is always the best cure. Rather than address the issue when it worsens, pre-empt that your dog will encounter a thunderstorm from time to time get ready.
Firstly…Let’s look at your reaction to an incoming storm
You may be scared of storms yourself. If this is the case you must be very careful not to push your fears onto your pet. If you know a storm is coming place your dog somewhere safe that is not around you so that your fear is not being sensed by your dog.
For those who love storms you may still trigger your dog without even realising. Our response and changes in behaviour to wild weather can also be a trigger for anxiety and stress in our dogs. We are the leader, and our dogs look to us for guidance. With this in mind, it is important that we are aware of what we are doing, how we behave and consider what that may look like to our dogs.
We race to get our washing off the line
We get overly excited at a crack of lightening
We rush around the house to close the windows
Often our energy is heightened and frantic in the lead up to the storm, changing what we would normally behave like on any other afternoon. Our dogs pick up on these changes in our behaviour and will often start to display early signs of stress. It is in fact initially our behaviour changes that are causing the stress in our dogs not the storm itself, but after a couple of storms they will start to link our behaviour to the impending storm and become triggered by the storm too.
Remember our dogs do not speak English or understand what is happening, all this sudden behaviour can cause your dog to stress and become anxious, and naturally so. Imagine if you were just happily walking down the street and suddenly everyone around you began to frantically race around running away in a heightened state. Despite not knowing the reason why, you would become quite concerned, alert and start running too.
Try to remain as neutral as you can. If a storm is ‘no-big-deal’ in your house, it will have little impact on your dog as well.
We’re Training In the Rain
One of the best and easiest ways to do this is to turn thunderstorms into a positive experience. At Found By The Hound, our Trainers use thunderstorms as the perfect opportunity to train and play with our dogs. Get a raincoat or a spray jacket and get out in the rain. Using thunderstorms as an opportunity for fun and enrichment will help your dog form a positive association with thunder. We know that the notion of standing out in wet weather may seem like the furthest thing from a good time when we’d rather be curled up on the sofa, this will help your dog become more resilient and confident in storms, especially if you are not home at the time.
Cannot conjure a storm on cue? Get creative!
Positive early exposure to a variety of objects, places, people and sounds is imperative to shaping confidence. If introduced correctly and within their social development stages, they will be able to cope even better the next time your dog encounters it. A dog’s social development occurs within the first 16 weeks of their life, which means you have a small window of opportunity to expose your puppy to AS MUCH as you can in a positive way. The same notion applies with thunderstorms.
While you cannot guarantee a thunderstorm in this timeframe (particularly if you get your puppy outside of storm season), we encourage you to get creative! Exposure your puppy to loud, sudden sounds such as banging pots and pans, vacuum cleaners. You can also find storm sounds on YouTube!
These sudden, loud sounds may cause your puppy to startle, just as we would get a fright if we were not expecting something. A startle response is a normal and natural response, however after a startle you should realise that nothing bad “actually” happened and everything is fine, it is at this point your dog will start to come into its recovery stage. This is where your puppy starts to act normal again. It is important that we do not intervene, we wait until they have recovered and THEN we praise. In adult dogs this time may take longer than a young dog as they have learned responses and can often take time to recover. That is ok, give them the time they need to recover in their own time.
Fussing over a frightened dog, will in fact reward the fearful behaviour. As dogs don’t have complex reasoning they don’t actually understand when we try and reassure them. What they get out of us giving them lots at attention when they are scared is that “yes they are correct to be scared and what good dogs they are for being scared. This will actually build their fear up. We want your dog to be confident and able to cope through ALL situations. That is why it is always best to wait for the recovery and reward them once they are back to normal again.
Storm season is well and truly here. Get dog out the gumboots, grab a tennis ball and have some fun in the rain! Have a question about how to shape a confident dog? Talk to the expert team at Found By The Hound.