As I mentioned in our last entry, I suspect that there are at least three reasons a dog may become fearful during a thunderstorm. Because these factors may be intertwined, owners of fearful dogs are encouraged to try a variety of techniques; when needed under the guidance and with the support of a qualified behavior professional.
SUGGESTIONS FOR SOUND SENSITIVE DOGS
Desensitization to thunder sounds: This involves purchasing a recording of thunderstorms and playing it at slowly increasing volume levels as dictated by a dog’s ability to relax at any given level of exposure. Before you begin this technique, you may want to observe your dog during the next storm – what are the first signs of anxiety? Whining? Pacing? Spinning in circles? Panting? Write these symptoms down.
Then purchase your .mp3 or c.d. Turn it on and slowly raise the volume until your dog shows the first signs of nervousness. Write down the volume level where these signs were first noted – when you begin your desensitization program, you will start at no less than two volume levels lower than that which produced the anxious response. When you begin your program, play it at a level which does not elicit your dog’s fearful response. The thunderstorm recording I use (Thundering Rainstorm by Joe Baker – I got it as a really cheap digital download on amazon) is a rain storm with sporadic thunder – each time a clap of thunder is heard, offer your dog a high value reward, one that she loves and only receives when practicing this exercise. If: a) your treat is truly high value, and b) your dog is hungry, she should eat. If both of these conditions apply and she will not eat, turn the c.d. down further. When your dog begins to look at you expectantly, awaiting a tasty morsel each time she hears thunder, you may turn the volume up SLIGHTLY. If at any point you notice those early signs of anxiety, turn the volume down until she regains confidence.
You may also find the Through a Dog’s Ear program to be extremely helpful. In addition to purchasing the wonderful c.d.’s, I highly recommend you read the book as well, which will explain a bit about how sound operates on behavior. You can find instructions for taking a sonic inventory on the Through a Dog’s Ear website; these instructions are elaborated upon in the book. Playing the TADE c.d.’s during a storm can definitely help many dogs relax, but it is imperative that you do not just play the music during a storm or your dog may actually become sensitized to the music through classical conditioning. If you routinely play the music when your dog is relaxing, perhaps after a wonderful adventure, she will come to associate it with relaxation more readily. You will also want to start playing the music before the storm even arrives, not when your dog first hears thunder – watch the forecast so you can be prepared!
Looks like I’ll be carrying this into at least a part III next week when we discuss techniques to address other potential contributing factors in your dog’s fear of thunderstorms.