Summer is around the corner which means the arrival of afternoon Summer storms. Living in Australia, we have become accustomed to what Summer brings; beautiful, balmy days in the sun and frequent afternoon storms. We love the sound of the rolling thunder and the smell of fresh rain cooling down the afternoon, but what about our dogs. For some, a storm is no big deal, it comes, it goes, and everything is as it was but for others, a storm can be incredibly stressful phenomenon and as we don’t speak the same language it is difficult to convey to a dog that they are safe.
Dogs can sense the change in barometric pressure leading up to a storm, which may cause your dog to show signs of anxiety long before you realise that a storm is brewing. These signs can include excessive pacing, panting, drooling and general unsettled behaviour.
The Team at Found by the Hound often work with dogs who have developed Storm Phobia. It is a particularly common issue our clients face and is often as a result of unintentional reinforcement by the owner. As humans, comfort and support is something we respond to so naturally when we see our dog displaying anxious behaviour or appearing frightened, a reaction can be to comfort a nervous dog, often with a cuddle, words of affirmation, plenty of pats and attention. As dogs do not have complex reasoning, this comforting in fact, reinforces what the dog is thinking at that moment, fundamentally rewarding a dog for being anxious and thus building more negative feelings, creating a lasting behavioural problem.
At Found by the Hound, we strive to help owners shape well rounded, confident dogs. If a dog is confident, he is less likely to be susceptible to things such as storm phobias, separation anxiety, fear of fireworks etc. Therefore, it is important that although we want to cuddle a frightening dog, we refrain, and only give reward and positive feedback when our dog displays confident behaviour.
We always say, prevention is the best cure, so we are sharing our top tips to help prevent storm phobias in dogs.
As the leader, your dog will often look to you for guidance and assurance, especially in times of uncertainty. If a storm is brewing, your behaviour can determine how the dog may react during storms. Try to adopt a calm attitude towards storms. We want to teach our dog that a storm is "no big deal". Instead of rushing around to get the washing off the line or shrieking at a crack of thunder, be mindful and stay calm and neutral. Although we do not speak the same language our dog will respond to our body language. Try and maintain your normal routine as much as possible when a storm is arriving and during the storm.
This should go for all members of the house. Be sure to encourage calm behaviour from everyone including your children. If everyone around your dog is calm before and during a storm, it can significantly improve your dog’s perception of storms in the future.
Turn Storms Into A Positive
A storm is what you make it. It can be a huge deal, with everyone gasping at sounds of thunder, it can be no big deal, not warranting a reaction of any kind, or it can be FUN!
At Found by the Hound, an important part of our process is to train in the rain. Not because we enjoy being saturated but because there is merit to consistent training regardless of the weather. If we are not phased by the weather, our dogs will not be phased be the weather.
We like to get out in the rain, throw a ball and train. Not only are we showcasing that storms are "insignificant", we can turn a brewing storm into a positive experience. By doing this your dog will have a positive association, lessening the chance of fears and phobias.
We encourage owners to brave the rain, remain calm and reinforce that storms aren't scary! They can be FUN!
Reward Confidence, Not Fear
Owners can unknowingly reward anxious behaviour by comforting or cuddling. Ignore anxious behaviour and when your dog showcases confidence, praise and reward your dog. Too often we see owners make the mistake of comforting their dog, often reinforcing fearful behaviour. This goes for many things in their life.
Often our dogs may have a startle to a noise. A startle response is normal, but if you can ignore your dog during its startle phase and reward your dog once it has had time to recover from its startle you will build a more confident dog.
If someone jumped out from around the corner and scared you, you would initially startle, but after a brief moment, your brain would realise that you are actually under no threat. Your heart rate would start to slow down and you would go into your recovery phase. Wait for a recovery before giving your dog attention.
At Found by the Hound, we believe that frequent exposure to new sights and sounds will be vital in developing their confidence. Loud noises like fireworks, car backfiring or thunderstorms can cause a startle response, but with early exposure to a variety of new sounds, it can help de-sensitise your dog so that when a Summer storm is on its way you know your dog is confident, resilient and relaxed during a storm.
Provide A Safe Haven
Providing a safe place for your dog to settle can also be beneficial. A crate can serve as a useful tool during storms or even fireworks. As dogs tend to den, a crate can provide a safe and protected space for your dog. You will often notice that when your dog is frightened, they will tend to shy away, laying under tables, in corners, under your feet or in a dark room.
Aid the process and set up their own sanctuary where they can seek refuge should they need a safe space to den while the storm passes. It can also be useful if someone in your home isn’t calm during storms you can put your dog away from that person to prevent the dog from going into a state of stress.
To learn more about preventing phobias, contact the team at Found by the Hound!