Ask the Trainer

Ask the Trainer: Helping a Dog Through a Severe Fear of Storms

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Scaredchi

Dear Kevin,
My dog, Jake, is from the Joplin, Missouri tornado. He is very skittish and shakes at shadows or when there is a strong wind. Or when its just raining he shakes horribly. Is there anything I can do to make him more comfortable?
-Kathy

Hey Kathy,

Having such a traumatic experience like this can definitely take its toll on a dog. If I’m understanding the question correctly every time it starts to rain or if it gets very windy he starts to “shut down.”

What I recommend doing is getting things that he usually can’t resist and start to give them to him when you know the weather is about to get bad. This will work in two ways; The first is as a distraction. The second is it will get him to start associating the rain/wind with things that he loves, which with repetition can get him to start to tolerate when it is raining or windy etc.

I recommend trying to be very interactive with him, which goes along with using his favorite things as a distraction. Try to do basic training or even trick training. This will only be possible if he stays under “threshold.” When a dog gets above threshold it is basically shut down. When a dog is shut down all you can do is try whatever you can to help him relax. Try some massages etc. Some say never “coddle” the dog when it is like this, as it will make it worse. In response to this there is no scientific data to back up that argument so if someone tells you that just nod and smile. If the dog is stressed and you are doing something to help it relax, my question would be how could that make it worse?

A good place to start this may be a room that blocks out as much background noise as possible. When things are going smoothly and he is getting more comfortable go to a room that lets in a bit more noise. The ultimate goal would be to do some work out on a porch or somewhere covered but is still around the elements. This is only possible if you do it in steps. If you try to move too quickly with this you will probably end up flooding the dog, which will result in him going above threshold.

If this is very severe, (which I imagine it is) it’s a good idea to contact your veterinarian to discuss the use of a medication. Extreme stress is not good for the dog’s health. Utilizing a medication can help take that edge off which can help him relax resulting in making more progress in a shorter period of time. A couple other things that could help are D.A.P. (Dog Appeasing Pheromone), a Thundershirt, and certain calming music. It may also be a good idea to have a certified trainer come to you to help give you a hand with this.

Thank you for the question!
Kevin Duggan CPDT-KA

Kevin is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT.org)  and is a Canine Good Citizen Evaluator through the American Kennel Club. He currently resides in Ohio with his dog, V, a six-year-old Shepherd/Lab mix, where he operates All Dogs Go To Kevin, LLC, specializing in helping build positive relationships between humans and their canine companions using clear communication, not pain and fear. For more training tips and tricks, and to meet his amazing dog, V,  follow him on Facebook by clicking here.

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19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Avatar Of Document Management System

    document management system

    says:

    Thanks in support of sharing such a fastidious thought,
    post is good, thats why i have read it completely

  2. Avatar Of Dr Les Ellam

    Dr Les Ellam

    says:

    We have twin dogs but only one is terrified of thunder and fireworks. Last year I qualified as a canine masseur and myotherapist so thought I’d try something new out this year. Fireworks and thunder can cause both you and your dog to get stressed. Your dog gets stressed because they simply don’t like it, you get stressed because it worries you seeing your dog so anxious and chasing round the house to find somewhere to escape the loud noises. Massage can either be stimulating (when you use fast, vigorous and strong movements) or relaxing (when the movements are slower, softer and more rhythmic). If your dog is nervous you want to use slow, rhythmic yet confident movements.

    Use a gentle soothing effleurage movement with the flat of your hand curving to the shape of the body and keeping the other hand on the top of their head or neck with long slow but confident sweeps along the back to the head and chest several times.

    To finish keep your hand on the dog’s head and rest your other hand over their pelvis (just in front of the tail). These two areas correspond to the part of the spinal cord that controls the rest and relaxation responses of the body (for example, sleep, digestion, and tissue repair). You don’t need to exert any pressure, just relax and breath with your dog. After the routine you could wrap your dog up warmly in a blanket, like a thundershirt but less expensive and with more uses.

    Clearly thunder and storms are not always predictable but things like Holloween or other occasions for fireworks typically are. What we did with our Sam was to start this routine a couple of weeks in advance to build up their calmness. WE found that each night the sighs come earlier into the session and his eyes went all goggly inside his head. When the bangs start it was clear he was hearing them but instead of running round the house, he simply laid back down again as though the effort of being stressed was actually too much like hard work. As an added extra this relaxes us too as we no longer needed to dread the next big bang wondering what to to calm down Mr Sam.

    Try it…it can’t do any harm and hopefully over time your dog will stop associating bangs with fear and begin to associate them with a special massage from Mum or Dad.

  3. Avatar Of Bess Moore

    bess moore

    says:

    My Vet always tells me NOT to comfort my shi -poo, Honey because it reenforces the fear! What do I do?? Poop is flying out of her butt! She pees clear across the floor! Shakes! Hides in the cupboard!! What DO I do?? Advice, please!!! Help!!!

    • Avatar Of Kevin Duggan, Cpdt-Ka

      Kevin Duggan, CPDT-KA

      says:

      Hi Bess,

      If comforting makes her feel better than I don’t see how it could make anything worse.

  4. Avatar Of Sarah Ruder

    Sarah Ruder

    says:

    Rose Vincent, I have never heard of The Rein Coat? My dog Jet is very fearful when it comes to loud noise and fireworks. He also has issues with separation anxiety. How well does this product work for you and is it worth it? I am considering taking the plunge and purchasing.

    • Avatar Of Rose Vincent

      Rose Vincent

      says:

      Hey, Sarah I have been using it with the pups for several months now. Normally after the coat is on they calm down in about 15 seconds. The Rein Coat has helped so much during fearful situations. It was more expensive then others products on the market but it’s good quality and really works. I hope this helps good luck. If you want more info you can check out their website thereincoat.com

  5. Avatar Of Suely Vera

    Suely Vera

    says:

    I have a 8 year old Golden Retriever that totally out of the blue started to be terrified of fire works and thunder when she was about 4 years old. I have been studying and trying all kinds of things to help her since. These are all good suggestions. However, I am totally against the medication. I use Rescue Remedy a natural floral bach. Fantastic!

  6. Avatar Of Rose Vincent

    Rose Vincent

    says:

    This a great article with some very useful information. With thunderstorm season on the rise my two Terriers Jackson and Ace are very sensitive when it comes to loud noise and thunder and lighting. My poor babies have always been terrified when it comes to these things. I agree that we should not baby them and encourage them to stay fearful. I normally try to make it a fun experience I give them a yummy treat and put on a product called The Rein Coat. I have used the Thunder Shirt and other methods but unfortunately for my babies it did not work. I have been using The Rein Coat when ever I have guests thunder is coming or the trash truck. It has been helping i’m happy to report. I will note that no one product is a solution its an on going process.

  7. Avatar Of George Chase

    George Chase

    says:

    I live in Moore, OK. My pug, Monte is an alpha male and sees his mission is to comfort me knowing if I croak, he is S.O.L. for dinner and treats. In return, I put his ThunderShirt on, and we seek refuge until the storm passes and NOAA Radio has calmed down. He seems to be happiest in familiar surroundings, although I may vhoose tjo head in the opposite direction next time. I wish I could contribute more for some of you, I can’t, Monte seems to flow with the tide.

  8. Avatar Of Jean

    Jean

    says:

    What I recommend is that you show your dog that you’re not worried – even if you are; so practice your acting. Distracting with food is great if the dog will take the food; so are the other things Kevin recommends. Just add some cheerful sounds/actions to the mix. I helped my rescued GSD get over his fear by singing nursery rhymes to him in a silly voice,combined with petting, feeding treats, and tossing toys. For a while, I was just tossing them to myself; but as time passed he got over his fears. It took about one stormy late spring and summer, so it wasn’t quick; be patient and it’ll help.

  9. Avatar Of Nora Johnson

    Nora Johnson

    says:

    Thank you! My little one is terrified of storms but handles them best if in my arms. Or “his safe place” that is his bed under my bed. I do not say good boy but use the same quiet tones I would for any small scared animal, including children. Thundershirt helps but not as much as a little encouragement that things will be ok. He is getting better as he gets older and I appreciate your advice not to ignore the situation.

  10. Avatar Of Rachel Mercer

    Rachel Mercer

    says:

    I have tried all these things I have a thunder shirt , tried distracting her, everything i can think of and she just shakes….I’m afraid she has a heart attack…I have even turned the T V’s up very loud…..Thanks for trying….Rachel Mercer.

  11. Avatar Of James Yockey

    james yockey

    says:

    Kevin, I overall agree with your advice as I have found sound distraction is helpful and successful in the right situations. I am certain our pets can hear the thunder and lightening sounds well before we humans do. However, might I suggest there is another angle to this situation. I am certainly not a meteorologist by any stretch of the imagination, but I do know that with weather changes and approaching storm systems there are atmospheric changes that most certainly animals are sensitive to. Living in Central Florida (the lightening Capital of the World) I realize the impact of sounds on my pets, but I have also noticed their recognition of an approaching storm comes at least 30 minutes prior to the event. More interesting is the extent of their reaction seems to correlate to the size or intensity of the impending storm. Ironically, my dogs do not have the same reaction to a Hurricane of tropical storm related weather. The thunder storms or related weather is primarily what distresses them. I strongly suggest that the atmospheric pressure changes in an impending storm has a dramatic impact and no amount of distraction or noise to counter the storm noise is going to change that fact.

  12. Avatar Of Pat

    Pat

    says:

    I have tried most every thing with my 11-year-old Jack Russell who has a huge fear of thunder. Thundershirt will not work. Massaging will not work. Putting him in a room with less sound does not work. Trying to give him something he likes does not work. Last night he started shaking and there was no thunder/wind/rain, although storms were forecast. Finally had to give him medication to calm him down. He pretty much slept behind the bed during the night. I am at my wits end trying to find something to help him. Seems medication from the vet is the only answer.

    • Avatar Of Lorrie Kundrat

      Lorrie Kundrat

      says:

      I have to give my Lhasa benedryl whenever we get a storm. She shakes so hard and her heart beats so fast. I tried everything before the medication, but the medication makes it much easier for her to endure the storms. I did not buy the thundershirt I cannot afford the 50 dollars it cost. I held her and wrapped her in a small blanket but nothing worked. Give her benedryl and after about 10 minutes she calmed down. She is still uneasy but the shaking and barking stopped. I would and will do anything for her she is my furry daughter.

    • Avatar Of Elaine

      Elaine

      says:

      Have you tried Bach Rescue Remedy -it takes about 15 min but it really soothes them and not expensive-you can also put it in their water if you know some things coming

  13. Avatar Of Angie Degennaro

    Angie DeGennaro

    says:

    Great article! One of my two dogs has pretty intense anxiety when it comes to loud noises & thunderstorms are particularly difficult for her. I agree with the tips in this article, (not coddling to reinforce the negative reaction is important for the dog’s state of mind) gentle massage, distraction with play or training exercises can work if the stress level hasn’t gone too high & a Thundershirt actually helps my girl ALOT!

  14. Avatar Of Sue

    Sue

    says:

    Regarding ‘coddling’.

    There are two different things people do with pups that are under stress. The first is what some professionals try to get people to avoid doing. Saying ‘Good boy, its OK!!’ or such could enforce that the reaction is a good thing… after all, you are saying the same thing you say when Fido does other good things, right? I don’t know if it DOES enforce the reaction, but it does make sense that it might.

    On the other hand, helping your dog relax is an entirely different sort of ‘coddling’. Massage, stroking, talking in a soothing voice, letting them curl up with you (if they will) are all great things. Just try to avoid saying the type of things you do to reward your dog for good behavior.

    My personal favorite way to distract from storms (thunder particularly) is shoving food in their mouth. High value tidbits the instant thunder sounds. Usually doesn’t take too long for a halfway smart pup to figure out that the loud noise means great food!

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