I love living in Michigan! I was born here and have lived here all of my life. My favorite part is the changing seasons. While I am not a huge fan of Winter or Summer, I know they are temporary and Spring and Fall are right around the corner. Thats when we shine! The medium temperatures are where we flourish! The dogs and I have more pep in our step as we emerge from our cocoons in the Spring and dance in the falling leaves of Autumn.
Seasons change and the weather changes which can create a bit of atmospheric turbulence resulting in a lot of…noise. I love a good thunderstorm but the dogs, not so much. They let me know loudly when there is a thunderstorm (as if I didn’t notice!). Once I assume the leadership role and let them know its safe, they settle down quickly and only let out a warning bark if there is a particularly loud thunderclap. Unfortunately this is not the case for many dogs and it was not the case for us in the beginning. Many dogs are frightened by loud noises such as thunder, fireworks, etc.
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 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:
Remembering that dogs want to be the Sentries and they want us to be the Leaders, they want to let us know that something is happening (See my article on the Homepage). Our response can 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 (A Word About Words). Do not acknowledge their behavior or try to comfort them. Just keep giving the treats and phrase every time there is a loud noise.
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, can you initiate a correction for failure to obey.
- 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.