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Start Now! Help Your Dog Overcome a Fear of Thunderstorms, Fireworks, & Other Loud Noises

Young labrador hiding under a clothes rack

A fear of loud noises and novelty sounds, particularly fireworks and thunderstorms are common for many dogs.  This can be extremely problematic and stressful for both dog and owner.  As a result, I created a playlist of various sound effects to help solve this issue.  You can use it to positively condition a not yet fearful dog or desensitize and counter condition an already fearful dog.

When it comes to training a dog to sounds, we cannot use a real storm or fireworks display, as these events happen too quickly and are often unexpected.  That is why prerecorded sounds are so important, we are in direct control of the timing, volume, and duration.  It is essential that the training protocol be implemented gradually and over prolonged periods of time.

Step 1: Start the sound track a low level that your dog does not even hear it.  It must not invoke a fearful response.  Dogs have much better hearing than us, so error on the side of caution and start lower in volume.

Step 2:  This is a slow and strategic process, only increase the volume one “notch” each training session.  The biggest mistake one can make, is increasing the stimuli too quickly, resulting in a fear response.

Step 3:  While the sound track is playing, create a positive and happy association for your dog.  You can: periodically treat your dog with a high value snack (hot dog, cheese, turkey, etc.), play your dog’s favorite game (tug, fetch, etc.) or practice various obedience commands.  This will keep your dog’s mind focused on productive and happy activities.

Step 4:  Once your dog has progressed to being non-reactive toward the sounds at an appreciable level, restart this scenario in different rooms of the house.  Varying the context will help the dog to generalize the fact that these sounds are not “bad”.

There are other variables that can trigger a fear response, such as atmospheric changes during thunder storms, startling flashes from lightening, and vibration from fireworks.  Those are hard to artificially create, so we are focusing on what we can control (i.e. the sounds).

If (when) your dog does respond fearfully to one of the sounds at a specific volume, take a step back by lowering the volume to a previous level and resume the process at that level.  Then gradually increase again when the dog is ready.   

This protocol can help rehabilitate fearful dogs and prevent issues in puppies and non-reactive dogs.  Make sure to start the process of positively conditioning, desensitizing, and counter conditioning now.  Don’t try to train your dog 2 days before hurricane season or on July 3rd.  Conduct short and frequent training sessions each day, over several weeks.

*Note: Subscribe to my YouTube channel, as I will be frequently updating this playlist.  If you have a recommendation for a specific sound to be added, please leave it in the comments section below.

Steve Reid is a professional dog trainer and owner of S.R. Dog Training in Westchester NY.  For more info about dog training and puppy training. Please also become a fan of Steve on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/SRDogTraining.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Dolly

    Jun 13, 2016 at 10:53 pm

    We prefer “Through a Dog’s Ear” for pre-recorded sounds – amazing how well it works with thunderstorms, fireworks or other stressful noises for dogs and cats!

  2. Leigh Holy

    Jan 3, 2016 at 7:41 am

    Seems like a great idea to try!

    On another note: In step number 1, please change the word error to err on order to make the sentence correct.

  3. Erin

    Oct 8, 2015 at 1:30 am

    I’m surprised the Thundershirt wasn’t mentioned. Nor was Thunderpetics. Both of these will help relax a dog.

    And hot dogs, cheese, really? dogs are lactose intolerant and you shouldn’t feed them human food.. Hmmmmm….

    • Brandy Arnold

      Brandy Arnold

      Oct 8, 2015 at 8:52 am

      Thundershirt and Thunderpetics are both fantastic products for helping a dog cope during a fearful event like thunderstorms or fireworks. However, that’s not what Steve’s article is about. He is detailing how to train your dog to not be fearful of these things, thus reducing or eliminating the need for calming products.

      From my own experience, my boy Noah was absolutely terrified of thunder, to the point that I was using a thundershirt, calming spray, playing music, and holding a shivering 65-pound dog on my lap, sometimes for hours at a time. Today, after following the plan above (it took us probably two months of consistency) Noah doesn’t bat an eyelash at thunder. His fear is gone. We no longer need Thundershirts, calming spray, music… he’s just as happy as ever despite the storm that may be happening outside.

      While calming products are great (for those 80% or so dogs that they actually work for) they address an immediate need but not a long term solution. And, Steve will have to weigh in on this, but I don’t see any reason why they can’t be used in addition to or during the training period.

      As for cheese, use your own discretion when treating your dog. Cheese is an excellent choice for my dogs (who do not have any lactose intolerance, but cannot have chicken) as it’s something they very rarely get, but absolutely love, making it the perfect choice for this type of training. Plus, you aren’t feeding them entire block of cheese. The point is to make the reward something they really, really love – it doesn’t even have to be food! If your dog is more motivated by attention or playing, that will work as a reward, too.

    • Steve

      Oct 8, 2015 at 12:57 pm

      Hi Erin,

      You raise some terrific points, thank you for mentioning them! Thundershirts and Thunderpetics can be viable options that have elicited great results with many dogs, however I am primarily focusing on training in order to help educate owners on how to make permanent positive changes in their dog. Thundershirts and thunderpetics are potential compliments to sound dog training practices, but not a replacement.

      In regards to hot dogs and cheese, every dog is different, and their owner and/or Veterinarian would know best as to what is appropriate for that particular dog. I personally have used both of those items in limited quantity with great success. But you are absolutely right, they are not suitable for all dogs. The key is that the treat is “high value” for the dog.

      Once again, thank you for your reply, it raised important aspects that I am sure many will benefit from!

  4. Margaret Stutts

    Oct 7, 2015 at 11:28 am

    I have a nine year old, female medium sized dog. I have a problem with her and sports on TV. I’m a big football and tennis fan. I have traumatized her by yelling at the screen during these events without realizing I was doing so. She’s a frightened dog in general. She’s scared of storms and fireworks too. I haven’t tried this method, but I’m thinking about it. She lives inside and is a Houdini dog. She can get out of any backyard. So when football comes on I have to take her outside and chain her up. That is ok, but if this can be fixed, I’d like to try. You see it’s getting worse. She is now scared of any crowd noise on tv, like a concert. I am upset that she is so traumatized. Thank you.

    • Steve

      Oct 7, 2015 at 2:16 pm

      Hi Margaret,
      Based on what you said, it does sound like your dog has become fearful of loud noises because of her associations with them. I would try a slow and gradual desensitization and counter conditioning protocol. The key is to not bring her over threshold (so she doesn’t reacts negatively) when you are training her, but ALSO in general day-to-day living (when you are watching football, concerts on t.v., etc.). Hope this helps, and good luck with your training!

  5. Margaret Stutts

    Oct 7, 2015 at 11:19 am

    Hello. I’ve got a dog that is scared of football games, tennis matches, etc., on Tv. She is scared because I yelled at the tv without realizing I was traumatizing her. How do I fix this? Prerecord a game and try this? She’s nine years old and I don’t know if she will ever get over it. She pants, paces and I have to take her outside. It used to only be a problem during football season. But now if she hears a crowd on tv, be it a concert or what have you, she starts to stress. Thank you if you can help me.

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