Your kit-of-tools to success is complete, you don’t need to go out and purchase anything - you already have what you need…you just have to dust off and polish up your tools a little. Your tools are - your patience, persistence, determination - your will; and a safe, comfy, not too large space for your dog to stay. We will get into the details below.
And please be further reassured - the age of your dog does not matter, puppy, teenager, adult or senior dog - all is possible.
Of my ten dog pack - primarily rescues - two of the females were severely affected by thunder and gun shots - Abby my German Shepherd x Belgian Shepherd and Tasha my Australian Shepherd. Tasha also had separation anxiety.
If the air pressure change signalled the on-set of a T-storm Abby would start to quiver, then shake, pant and then tremble so acutely - her heart beat was as if she would have a heart attack. I adopted Abby at 18 months of age - she arrived with this anxiety. Tasha would also have these physiological symptoms. They would dash about looking for a safe haven - jumping into the bath tub, wrapping around the base of a toilet, moving from one place to another in search of safety - in total panic, meltdown, shut down. With patience and the right type of care they are both much better today.
The key to stop the meltdown and shut down is to provide leadership - eventually you will see improvement. If you have not already red these two articles you will need to in order to have a full understanding of your role as guardian through the storm! Leadership, Sensitivity, Dogs and Thunderstorms Part 1
FIRST PLEASE DO NOT ANTICIPATE - PLEASE STRATEGICALLY LEAD
If, at the first sign of rain, storm, thunder - you feel any negative thought/emotion anticipation, even release a sigh - it will reinforce your dog’s reaction to the incoming storm! To help break the pattern - the association ever little bit counts. Really the first place to start is to switch your own association - switch your entire psyche to focus on work. Being your dog’s guardian, leading - it is work. When we remain in personal mode we are emotive, and this makes us ineffective as we forget to disengage from emotion. Our expectations and communication becomes clouded rather than clear. We get too close, too involved in emotion and argument. When we switch our brain to working mode our expectations are different than when we are not working. When we think work - we employ logic, we direct, we are confident and calm.
Dogs want direction not sympathy. If you see your dog start to react…ears go down, tail goes down, a shiver, a whine switch modes immediately! Don’t feel sorry; instead switch to work and action from a calm and determined perspective.
Timing as in many situations is everything. The sooner you strategically intervene the better.
Most dogs that are afraid of thunder (gun shots, fire works) go into flight mode, they run about looking desperately for somewhere safe to go. Freedom to run about only makes them more desperate.
If your dog is crate trained, calmly, confidently bring your dog to its crate, guide your dog in and close the crate door. Your dog may try to evade going into the crate - don’t feel bad - just be calm, no panic, have no second thoughts - guide your dog in. Your dog is simply struggling as they are in panic mode and are accustomed to fleeing, remember if you have an ingrained habit it is normal for you to seek fulfillment of that habit. If they have a favorite toy, you can put it in the crate too.
If your dog is not crate trained then have another small space in which you can confine your dog - the space should be large enough to fit a comfy dog bed - no bigger no smaller.
If the space, crate that you confine your dog in can be located in a quite corner within a space near where you will be, coming and going that is fine. I tend to use a crate in the kitchen or living room for this purpose. Don’t hide the dog away in some remote space - you want them to learn not to cower and hide. While you work to get them accustomed to normalizing storms they need to feel secure not sequestered.
Once your dog is in the space or crate, walk away. Don’t say anything, don’t look, don’t touch, don’t feel anything but calm. As you go through this entire process you need to think ‘thunderstorms are normal, and you, my dear dog need to get accustomed to such storms and that is it’. And then you should go about your business in a normal, relaxed fashion - forget how your dog feels and what your dog is doing. By normalizing this in your mind, by relaxing and not treating the storm as anything more you will help your dog to normalize.
Right now you may think you need to stay by your dog’s side, that you need to touch them, say affectionate things to them…but if you do these things you are telling your dog that the situation is not normal. You are reinforcing their anxiety. Just think about it. Instead if you settle them into a comfortable spot, get up and go about your business - you are saying this is normal, be normal. This is what your dog really needs. To feel from you that all is well, normal and safe.
You may be thinking - but my dogs comes to get me and expects me to be there holding her and talking to her. She only does this because it is the pattern you have set in motion - you have not shown her what else she can do - relax - you have not shown her where - in a safe, comfortable contained space. She has no other option. Give her an alternative, be patient and allow her to adjust. Give her proper direction - calm, confident logical - no playing into emotions hers or yours.
You may not see any changes the first time but be patient, just wait. This is a psychologically driven situation - patience and confidence is key. The first time you may see little change - don’t worry. Persist. Soon you will see your dog learn to calm and sleep in comfort. Eventually they will not require such confinement.
Remember your most effective tool is your own state-of-being - employ calm, confidence and logic. Lead by the right example. Don’t engage in fuss, emotion and worry - you will make your dog worried and stressed. This is all about changing your dog’s association with thunder storms and your bad habits of supporting and enabling psychological trauma with emotion.
If you require additional support and guidance I would be pleased to assist you via my In-Person or On-Line Services…
Dog Obedience Training and Behaviour Modification Services:
- In-Person sessions are available via this service
- On-Line consultation and sessions are available via this service
Please note - this article is for information purposes and is not a substitute for an in-person Session with me. When working with dogs I use many techniques - it is important to note that this article may touch on one or several techniques but not all. I select the technique that I use for a particular dog based on my observations of the dog and an intuitive, instinctive assessment of that dog's and its human's individual requirements. For example when I am working with a dog that is hyper sensitive and very physically reactive I will not use voice or touch. I use a lot of therapeutic touch on some dogs, others require the use of herding techniques and so on. Each and every technique must be combined with:
- an understanding of the real intelligence, sensitivity and capability of dogs;
- an understanding of how to read a dog's face and a dog's overall body language;
- an understanding of the full spectrum of ways that humans communicate and dogs communicate;
- understanding and recognition of the individual that is each dog - no two dogs are the same...taking a 'cookie cutter' approach to techniques is not the way to work with a dog;
- a complete recognition and understanding of all the elements that feed a behaviour and create an issue:
- the vast majority of people can only identify one or two elements...which vastly inhibits the ability to resolve behavior issues;
- behaviours do not exist in isolation - there are always many elements that feed a single behaviour, there all always multiple behaviours that create a behavioral issue;
- self-restraint and discipline on the part of the human who is directing the dog;
- sensitivity, awareness, intuition, instinct and timing on the part of the human who is directing the dog;
- to understand, connect with and adapt quickly and effectively to a dog's learning requirements you must be able to employ the same tools a dog uses - acute sensitivity, awareness, instinct, intuition and timing;
- kindness, endurance, consideration, patience, persistence, perspective, the ability and know how to let the past go, the ability to set realistic expectations at any one point in time;
- the creation of structure, rules, boundaries and limitations for each situation at the macro and micro level;
- understanding of all the elements that make up an instruction and direction to a dog...there are multiple steps involved in an instruction - not just one!
- absolute honesty - if you cannot be honest with yourself you will not be able to communicate clearly with a dog.