Summer is upon us and we are going to focus on helping our dogs feel more comfortable when thunderstorms happen. Does your dog hide, bark, shake or show body language signs like tail tucked, head down, ears back or pursed mouth when thunderstorms happen? Then your dog is feeling distressed and scared. Since Mother Nature does her own thing when she wants, therefore we must set up the environment for practice before the main event happens! Now is the time to get started.
Step 1: Find storm sounds you can play from your computer, tablet or phone. YouTube has some great options which allow for a variety of experiences. One suggestion is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVKEM4K8J8A. Once you find a few you think are good for you, you’re ready to get started.
Step 2: Get prepared with something super high value. Many dogs love food. Food is necessary for survival and one that our dog’s inherently understand. A long lasting chew is great and there are many varieties. One I know is a cut above the rest are Himalayan chews https://www.himalayan.pet/. These are great since they are long lasting and help with keeping your dog’s teeth cleaned. You can also use a kong stuffed with food works well, freezing it is even better!
Step 3: When ready with your high value reward, play the storm sounds and a low level and pair the sounds with the long lasting chew or Kong. When your dog continues snacking, you know he is comfortable with the sounds. Do this for 5 days. Varying the time you’re playing the sounds, but keeping the volume the same.
**If your dog is extremely sensitive to thunderstorms or suffers from panic attacks, consult a positive reinforcement trainer or behaviorist**
Step 4: Move to this step only if your dog was comfortable and relaxed while you played the storm sounds at the low level. This step moves to increasing the volume little bits at a time and repeating the above steps. You always want your dog to be relaxed when the storm sounds are on. Move between increasing and decreasing the volume of the storm sounds (never just increase the sound alone-this can be too overwhelming). Repeat this for 5 days. If at any point, the volume was increased too quickly or the sound was too startling, stop the session and try again later-repeat step 3 at the lowest volume or move the device into another room.
Step 5: Once you’ve played the storms on a variety of volume levels, move to increasing the length of time of the sounds from lower volume to higher volume. Follow Step 3 and step 4, but you’re focusing on the length of time the sound is going on for during each session. Increase time slowly with each volume change and if you’re dog stops snacking or shows distress, stop the session and progress more slowly the next time.
The key is practicing often and consistently, so our dogs become accustomed to the sounds and feel more relaxed during storms. Follow our dogs lead when progressing. Your dog will tell you when to keep moving along.