• Christine Bauhs, CPDT-KA

Healing Canine Thunder Phobia



"Hi there, my name’s Christine Fasan and I’m the owner and dog trainer at K9 Holistics. It is a beautiful, rainy, thunderous day here in Florida, and I thought I would take the opportunity to talk a little bit about thunder phobias. I see it all the time, it’s a very common problem, and if you live somewhere like St. Petersburg, Florida where we have thunderstorms pretty much daily, that can be a really challenging situation for you and your dog. Obviously there can be a lot of anxiety that goes with it and it can be a very frustrating problem to resolve if you’re not sure what to do. But fortunately there are a lot of ways that you can help this behavior, and that was a perfect example of it! Right now while I was talking, we just got some thunder and Mya’s immediate reaction is to go to the door and bark…because she doesn’t know what is! This is the reason why dogs are reactive to thunder – they don’t understand what it is. We can’t sit them down and tell them that thunder is just a natural occurrence that happens when it rains and it’s stormy. To them it’s just this really loud sound that is not only something that they hear, but also something that they feel. And there’s no visual cause for it, so it’s very confusing for them. Not to mention that dogs can feel a change in barometric pressure which is something that changes when a storm is coming, and that change in pressure can cause a little bit of disruption to their balance and their system. They notice that and sense all these changes but they can’t make any sense of it in their brain."

"So what I’m doing right now is really simple. All I’m doing is making a new association for her between thunderstorms and what happens when it starts to thunder. Really she just needed that frenetic mental energy to be redirected toward something else so I’m giving her a game to do. I’m simply using the sound of the thunder as a cue for food coming. So it’s similar to what you may expect with a clicker. With a clicker, the sound of the clicker is what indicates to the dog that food is coming. So I’m using the sound of thunder in much the same way. Whenever she hears the sound of thunder she knows – oh! Food is coming! So it stops being a situation in which she’s looking for the cause of the thunder, she’s now looking for the effect of it, which is going to be the food. That will cause her to feel much less anxious and much less tense when there’s a thunderstorm."

"I wish I would have started this video right when we started doing the training because when she started hearing the thunder she was very on edge, very alert. And I was like – let’s take this opportunity and do some training!"

"This is a great thing to do if your dog has any kind of thunder phobia. So I’ll just show you basically what I’ve been doing. So…I cannot get thunder to cue on command obviously, so I’m just going to pretend that there was some thunder. I’m going to have my treats handy, I’ve got my little training pouch on…so whenever I would hear the thunder, I would say “Mya, go find!” And I would throw the treat on the floor. Now there’s a reason that I’m delivering the treat to her by throwing it and telling her to go find it, rather than delivering it to her directly with my hand. That’s so that we’re working the brain a little bit. We’re getting the nose involved, we’re getting the brain involved, so now all of the sudden it’s a game and she has something to do – rather than just eat right out of my hand. And I’m going to start throwing it farther and farther away. I might throw one over there and one over there. So we’re giving her this awesome game to play in the face of something that was formally a fearful trigger for her. So I’ll just pretend we just heard thunder again and I’ll say “Mya, go find, go find! Good girl! Very good girl.”

"So anyway, I just wanted to give a quick rundown of things you can do. Another great thing to do if your dog has thunder phobia, is to further desensitize them to the sound by, for example, getting a cd of a thunderstorm. Something that’s going to have thunder repeating every 10-20 seconds or maybe even more frequently. Or go on YouTube or go online and try to find thunder sounds. You’re really going to want to have good speakers for this; computer speakers aren’t really going to cut it. You want to have something bass-y because you want something that the dog can feel in their body that replicates the sound of real thunder. So you want to have good speakers when you do that. Essentially what you would do is start out at a very low volume and you would play it, and while you’re playing it you’re going to give the dog some treats and calm affection. You want to keep the dog in as much of a calm state as possible but you’re going to make it a really positive, really relaxing experience. And gradually as you continue to do that exercise, you’re going to turn the volume up. You can kind of get a feel for the dog’s threshold as far as what level of volume do they start to react. At what level of volume do they start to become uncomfortable and you see those signs of anxiety coming through. That is your cue to bring down the volume just a little bit and work at that level. Get the dog calm and relaxed and bring the volume up again. So you’re desensitizing them, it’s a very slow process, you’re letting them go at their own pace and you’re never taking them to the point of a high level of anxiety. Because it’s going to be very hard to work with the mind and modify behavior at that point. You want to get them in a calm state and then bring the intensity of the trigger up."

"When I first started working with Mya, rainstorms where a real challenge for her and because I’ve given her something else to do, something else to focus on, a different place to direct her mental energy, it’s becoming something that’s no big deal. So I think, you know, with a little bit more training, she’ll be great and she won’t have a problem with it anymore. There’s definitely many ways that you can work with this kind of issue, and if you’re willing to put that time into your dog, you’ll be amazed at the changes and transformations that can happen with their behavior, mental state and your relationship with them."

"Thank you guys so much for watching, I hope you found this video helpful and informational. If you have any questions please feel free to email me at info@k9holistics.com. Our Facebook page is facebook.com/k9holistics and you can always find us online at k9holistics.com. Thank you so much. Have a great day!"

Christine Fasan is the head trainer and canine behaviorist for K9 Holistics. She specializes in German Shepherd Dogs and healing reactivity in dogs of all breeds. K9 Holistics offers dog training and behavior modification in St. Petersburg and throughout Pinellas County. We also offer pet care services including dog walking and pet sitting. Please contact Christine at info@k9holistics.com

#fearfuldog #behavior #trainingprotocols #nervousdog #desensitization

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