Your Pup and Thunderstorms

Welcome to this week’s African Dog Whisperer blog!

With the change in season, from winter to spring, so comes the summer rains! Unfortunately, this also comes with the distress of fear in some of our dogs when the thunder and lightning begin.

Canine habits are usually instinctive and are inherited as a form of communication for survival. However, some habits are learned and are difficult to change because they have been accepted as the norm for too long. These learned habits and behaviours are therefore, up to us to either accept or to help change.

The most common behaviours which can turn into bad habits and ones that you do not want to continue, are things such as biting, digging and jumping. However the most important one we do not want to accept as part of daily life, is the behaviour of fear. Whether it is separation anxiety, or the fear of other dogs, people or things (such as thunderstorms), fear is a response that can be created through our modern day lives.

Phobias are an exaggeration of the normal fear response, because it becomes overwhelming for your dog to handle this fear. If they are feeling fearful, your dog will display fear by trembling, hiding or tucking their tail in.

The causes of fear and phobias can be based on one of the three following reasons:

  1. Genetics
  2. A lack of proper socialization
  3. Negative experiences

A human’s behaviour can also create a fear response in a dog. This can be through a negative experience for the dog. Which may not be what you might think! During a traumatic or violent experience, your canine sees your reaction and assimilates your fear with the object or event for themselves as well. For example, if you get a fright when the thunder strikes and you are with your dog, then they might think if my human is afraid, I should be too!

Another way pets become fearful is if they are not desensitized to loud sounds or the event of rain itself. Thunderstorms, like fireworks, are an extremely loud sound and are somewhat unpredictable, especially for your dog.

As humans we are naturally inclined to want to comfort and “feel bad” for someone when they are afraid, especially if it is a child or an animal. However, one would be surprised that this is not actually the correct or helpful response to the fear. So what is the solution and how can we help?

  1. As doggie parents, we need to desensitize our dogs to the noise. We can do this by practicing/playing loud/thunderstorm sounds at home and creating a fun atmosphere whilst those sounds are playing in order to change the way our dogs feel in those situations. 
  2. We need to change our own reactions to the rain and towards our dogs.
  3. We need to create a place for them to feel safe and for them to rest in, like a den or a bed, which can be enclosed or open.
  4. We need to give them an activity to focus on, such as giving your dog a game to play or a bone to chew during the storm.

Here are two common myths about solutions to Thunderstorms and ones which should not be practiced regularly:

  • Body Wraps (this only comforts the fear of the storm)
  • Being with your dog 24/7 (this only intensifies separation anxiety)

It is always important to do what is best for your dog, always. Take care, keep safe and enjoy lots of play and treat time!

Until the next time! 


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