ClickerSolutions Training Treasures

Thunder Phobias -- Keeping "Help" in Perspective

I read some posts about dogs being frightened of thunder. I understand that this is a real problem for all those who have such a dog. I've seen, on this list, different suggestions and ways to try to solve this problem. It's lovely to see how people want to help each other. And this list shows the world that worldwide friendship exists. It's just wonderful.

But now about thunder. There are in fact different ways to TRY to cure. But in the first place we must accept that it is NOT possible to help each and every dog. It is hard, but it's the truth. Some methods to try to help a dog could be so logical, that WE want to succeed. And the danger is that we put to much pressure on the dog. It's not us, but the DOG that should have succes, IF POSSIBLE.

These last two words are so important: we have to accept that - just as humans - every dog is different and every dog has some good points AND some bad points. There is no perfect dog. There is no perfect handler. Once we can accept this truth, we can start trying to lessen the problem.

There are in fact different things to try, such as desensitization, counterconditioning, medical assistence, etc.

Fear is a very strong emotion and it can lead very easily to a wrong reaction from us. That's why the first rule should be to NOT comfort the dog. And that's not so obvious as it looks. You have to be "stone-hearted" for not saying a comforting word like "ssssttt, it's okay, it's only thunder; I'm right here, don't be frightened". If we comfort the dog, the only thing he learns is :" Good Lord, when my boss (handler) acts like this, there must be a good reason for it; that noise must indeed be very dangerous." And you'll see the dog getting worse in his reactions to noise in general. First it will be thunder, then it will be heavy rain, or a truck passing by. Try in the first place to be NEUTRAL towards the dog's fear.

When a child falls, and hurts itself a little bit, it will probably cry. If you comfort it, it's crying tends to become more frequent. But if you see that the child isn't really hurt and you don't pay any attention, it will soon get up and continue playing.

What about desensitization. (what a difficult word to write and even to pronounce :-) and counterconditioning. (another tongue-breaker :-)) You can indeed use a CD with enregistred thunderstorms, firework, heavy traffic, etcetera. But most people try the dog to get used to these noises, just by playing that CD. It won't work in most cases, and I'll try to explain how to increase your chances for succes.

First of all, don't show the dog you're going to your HIFI, because he's seen you doing that already 1000 times, and he knows your taste of music isn't his:-). So he'll accept whatever comes out the loudspeakers. Instead, start the CD on a very very quiet level, WHILE you're playing with the dog. (tug play is very good for this goal). After a few minutes you can try to increase the volume a little bit. While you're playing with your dog, you MUST observe him very well. He should NOT show any reaction of fear. If he does, you've been too impatient (you increased the volume too much in one session). If the dog shows NO fear,give a treat, stop the session and stop playing. When the dog shows he wants to play more, put the "noise-CD" on the volume where you ended before and continue playing your tug-play.

The advantages of working that way are :

  • You're establishing a association into dog's mind: CD-thunder-noise = tugplay.
  • You're making the dog focus on the game and NOT on the noise.

And now comes the hard part: When your dog is really very comfortable (it should take as many sessions as necessary) you have to make it a bit more REAL. And this is what most people don't and what they should do. Put your loudspeakers OUTSIDE. Thunder comes from outside to the inside and NOT vice-versa.

And the hardest part is this: you should hire some friends. The dog shouldn't see them coming to your house. Prevent the neighbours you'll making noise at nighttime. Ask your (hired) friend to bring their photocamera with flashlight! At first you stay a few moments inside, then when the "fake thunder and lighning" goes on, you go outside with the dog. Keep all his attention on yourself. Go outside, while playing and making fun with the dog. You have of course asked your friends to hide behind trees, pilars, and so. Try to make it as real as possible. If you can manage to do this several times, you should tug-play in the beginning, and after a while you can stop, then play again, and stop again, etc. The times of not-playing should become longer and longer.

I know it's not an easy way, but in many cases it's efficient. And I told you "fear is a strong emotion". You'll need strong nerves and a strong portion of patience.

But before you have to do this heavy way of helping your dog, you can always use a simple method that will help for some dogs. Use the thunder as a clicker!!! Every time you hear a thunder, give a very yummie treat. For some food-minded dogs this helps really well. Another variant is to click right after the thunder and then give a treat. After a couple of thunders, you'll see that the dog is anticipating your click and comes to get his treat right after the thunder.

I read some people are using Rescue Remedy. If you use the Dr. Bach Blossom therapy, in many cases the Rescue Remedy will not be sufficient. You'll have more chances if you add "Mimulus" and "Rock Rose".

So, dear friends, I suppose half of the listmembers have already fall asleep, reading this message. I don't mind. But to those who are still awake, I tell you I've written this with the very best intentions to help as much as possible. I hope Carol Whitney will find time to make some things more clear then I could. :-)

Best regards from Belgium,

Jos Lermyte
copyright 1999 Jos Lermyte


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