lightning and gray clouds

Is Your Dog Afraid of Loud Noises?

Thunder! Lightening! Wind! Rain! Storms can be exciting and amazing. And, if you don’t understand what’s happening, terrifying. Does your dog freak out, panic, run, hide during a thunderstorm, fireworks or other noisy situations?

While I love a good thunderstorm, the dogs, not so much. They used to let me know loudly when there was a thunderstorm or fireworks (as if I didn’t notice!). Because I have assumed the leadership role and I let them know that it’s safe, they settle down quickly and only let out a warning bark if there is a particularly loud noise. Unfortunately this is not the case for many dogs and it was not the case for us in the beginning.

What to do? Our first impulse is to comfort them. Unfortunately, this ‘comforting’ will probably sound a lot like praise to the pup which means we are accidentally reinforcing their frightened behavior! Probably not the best idea! We certainly don’t want to give a correction.

This is what has worked for all three of my dogs:

Dogs ogs want to be the Sentries and they want us to be the Leaders, they want to let us know that something is happening. Consequently, our response will affect their behavior. If we do not let them know that everything is fine, they may continue to bark or cower.

Associate the Noise With Something Positive

Using a higher-value treat (A Word About Treats), we can associate good things with the noise. Once you recognize that a noisy event is imminent, grab a handful of treats that your dog really likes, get your dog’s attention and every time a thunderclap, etc. occurs, use a happy yet calm voice and your Praise Phrase as you give your dog a small treat. Do not acknowledge their behavior or try to comfort them. Just keep giving the treats and phrase every time there is a loud noise.

Teaching “Safe”

Once it is understood by your dog, “Safe” is a great command for letting them know that there is nothing to be concerned about and they should stop barking, whining, pacing, etc. This works well for visitors as well as loud noises.

Initially, “Safe” is taught by placing your hands on each side of your dog’s ribs, just behind the shoulders. Fingertips point down towards the ground and firm pressure is applied as you say “Safe” in a calm, quiet voice. (This is the premise on which the Thundershirt is based. While I have not needed to use a Thundershirt, it is an available option.) If the dog calms, praise them by using your praise words in a calm, quiet voice. We want to avoid exciting them by using our usual excited praise voice. After the dog has learned the word “Safe” with the hands placed on the ribs, you may find that you only need to use the word “Safe” to calm them. Once you know that your dog understands Safe, you can initiate a correction for failure to obey.

Common Mistakes:

  • Punishing the dog
    This will only increase your dog’s stress level (as well as yours). Remember, Punishment is NOT the same as Correction.
  • Comforting the dog
    This comes across as praising the dog and can reinforce the behavior.
  • Ignoring the dog
    While we want to avoid being either positively or negatively reactive towards the dog’s behavior, ignoring the dog completely may confuse the dog and increase their anxiety. Use a calm voice, hands, body language.

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