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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tuesday's Training TIP: THUNDER!

Early Sunday morning.

First we hear rain battering overhead, and I am glad for our leak-free roof.  Then, strobe-like flashes outline our bedroom window where the blind does not touch the knotty-pine frame.

KABOOM!

Yahoo, that was close. 

The wind-driven rain now slaps against the windowpane, and I am glad our house sits atop a hill, away from the old groaning hardwoods.  A sound and safe house I am glad for, but still, snuggling closer to Andy during a spring thunder-buster is a joy!

Then.

I hear FLD Gus squeak in his crate in the living room.  Guess I'm getting up.  Great.  I know that Gypsy will do her business quickly and hightail it back inside, but Gus never lets a little rain bother his nosy investigations around the yard.  I hook him to my 15' lead and stand in the relative refuge of the back man-door of the garage.

Gus. Park, I command and am pleased when Gus heads right out and crouches into his still-puppy-like...

BOOM!

Gus leaps up in mid-park, bolts in an arc to the end of the lead, circles, and darts behind me into the garage.  Before I can react, he trots back outside to finish his park; he sniffs, takes a few steps, parks his other duty, and returns as if nothing untoward has occurred.

Good boy, Gus! I exclaim, before he shakes rain all over me.

I don't think this was his first experience with thunder, but it must have been many months ago; certainly he never got blasted in the middle of a "park!"  In any case, I am delighted that in spite of startling, Gus immediately shook it off.  Subsequent thunder cracks didn't bother him at all.

Why not?  Partly his speedy recovery had to do with my non-reaction (although I admit to an inadvertent giggle), partly with his "scary-smart" ability to quickly assess the situation and determine that the thunder posed no harm.  His need to finish parking probably didn't hurt either!



HINTS TO DEAL WITH THUNDERSTORM FEARS

PREVENTION 

The best thing to do if your puppy is suddenly startled by thunder is to act as if nothing unusual has happened.  Continue with what you were doing, distract your puppy with a command such as SIT, or excite your puppy into chasing you or playing.

YOUR initial reaction will set the stage for how your puppy reacts, now and later.

If your puppy exhibits nervousness or stress over a storm, do NOT "baby" your puppy.  Coddling and petting your puppy when he or she is scared will only encourage the scared behavior to continue, and the nervous behavior may escalate in the future.


MILD REACTIONS
  • If your puppy's behavior is mild, continue to ignore the behavior.
  • Engage your puppy with play or obedience commands to take his or her mind off of the storm.

HIGHER ANXIETY LEVELS
  • Try overriding the noise of the storm with a radio, television, fan, or other "white noise."
  • Provide a "hiding" spot where your puppy feels safe.  This can be under a table, behind the couch, or even in his or her crate.  Leave your puppy be and go about your normal routines.
  • Don't reprimand your puppy if he or she has an accident because of stress.  Just clean it up.  (Again, don't "comfort" your puppy.)

PRODUCTS
  • Some people have success using Rescue Remedy for Dogs, a natural Bach Flower essence administered orally by drops.  For more information, check out their website:  http://www.rescueremedy.com/pets/.
  • A relatively new product is the "Thundershirt," a comfortable body wrap that exerts constant pressure on a dog's torso.  There is some evidence that this pressure provides a calming effect on the nervous system.  Go to the Thundershirt website, http://www.thundershirt.com/, for information about the product and a range of training suggestions for general and specific anxiety issues, shyness, problem barking, and introducing a new dog.

Luckily, I have never had a puppy or dog that exhibited stress during thunderstorms.  Perhaps it is because I enjoy thunder and lightning and my pups learn from me!
Special thanks to my puppy-counselor, Nance, for sending the puppy-raisers in her group information on what she calls "Thunderphobia!"

2 comments:

  1. Great tips, though I will point out that cuddling or petting your dog is will more than likely not INCREASE their stress. Its a popular myth that cuddling with increase the behavior,however there is no proof of that fact.

    Think about it this way, if something traumatizing happened to you, would you rather sit by yourself shaking, or have someone there who is stronger than you, knows more than you comforting you?

    Remember for most dogs petting is a relaxing thing, and can be soothing.

    My 12yr doxie, is terrified of Thunderstorms, and her preference is to be near me, touching me if at all possible. If its during the night I will let her cuddle next too me,and she does settle faster with me holding onto her.

    :)

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  2. Erin--I agree that petting, especially using techniques like TTouch massage, can encourage settling. Leader Dogs for the Blind teaches its puppy-raisers and handlers to perform TTouch massage to promote relief from anxiety. (TTouch is even good for YOU!) Check out this website for more information and links to helpful videos: http://www.ttouch.com/.

    But it is a fine line between a "calming" touch and "babying." It IS tempting to assume that dogs desire (or need) the things that we, as humans, desire or need. I think it is important not to anthropomorphize, and to consider the oftentimes conflicting message we give our puppies when we do.

    Perhaps a more effective way to demonstrate strength for our puppies to mimic is to show them they don't have to be traumatized--divert their attention with play or obedience work!

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