Megan Brooks CDT, CGC Evaluator
Atlas, a 190lb St. Bernard is afraid of fireworks and thunderstorms. Living in Denver, he experiences his share of noisy weather. Each time he encounters a storm, this massive dog is reduced to a cowering, quivering, slobbering, crying, pacing mess. Atlas is now older and his owner has followed my program and made great progress. Atlas is now able to tolerate the storm much better, although he will probably never be comfortable.
The most important thing to know about dogs who are afraid is that we can actually reinforce fearful behavior if we pet them and try to comfort them when they are in this state of mind. Do not coddle fearful dogs or try to soothe them, to a dog this is telling them that you approve of the fearful behavior. Instead, ignore fearful behavior and go about business as if everything is normal. Your dog looks to you for cues and if you are calm he is more likely to remain calm.
Evaluate how stressed your dog is by offering a high-value food reward. A dog who is too worked up will refuse to take food. If your dog will take food you have a mild case and full rehabilitation is likely. Ask your dog to perform obedience commands for treats. If you can successfully engage your dog in obedience or in play you are taking his mind off of it and creating positive associations.
Set an example by remaining calm. Keep talking to a minimum and talk in a calm voice. Movements should be kept slow and fluid. Sit down or lie down, walking around can look like pacing.
Try to encourage your dog to lie down in belly rub position. This is full submission and it deserves a rub. Do not force your dog to lie down if he or she is not comfortable.
Never reprimand dogs for fearful behavior and do not allow yourself to become frustrated. Remember, it isn’t their fault and losing your cool will set you way back.
In severe cases, where pets may become destructive or hurt themselves trying to escape, their vet may prescribe medication to help keep them calm during a storm. Commonly, valium is prescribed to help ease severe anxiety in dogs.
Other things you can do that may help include turning on fans, TVs and radios to increase white noise and drown out outside noises. If you have a room that is quieter you can set it up so it is dark and cozy. If your dog has a kennel he or she may feel safer in there in a quiet, dark room.
This is not by any means a program to rehabilitate a noise-sensitive dog. It is simply meant to give you some tips on how you can ride out the storm with your dog until you can manage to rehabilitate them. If you have a dog who is terrified of thunderstorms, especially if he won’t take treats, you should consider working with a qualified professional dog trainer or canine behaviorist on the issue to begin to desensitize him to the loud noise. Unfortunately, in these hard cases it usually isn’t a quick fix and it can take a lot of work.
Last Updated: Monday, February 08, 2010