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Stormy weather tips: How to help your dog relax

Dogs can show anxiety or fear with wind, rain, thunder, and lightning. There is no easy “one-size-fits-all” solution to thunderstorm phobia in dogs, but desensitization training and behavior modification can both help.

Training and Behavior Modification

Get back to basics
Introduce a strong foundation of basic commands to your dog, such as 'sit' and ‘relax.’ Always reward when the task is successfully accomplished. If your dog is able to settle down in the face of distraction, this is a great start.

Introduce imitation storm elements
Start by playing a noise at a volume that doesn’t elicit distress. Using a stereo “surround-sound” recording system is more likely to produce a sound that is most similar to the actual stimulus, but it’s important to start small with less fear-evoking stimuli and move upward.

YouTube videos are a great resource. Additional measures can be taken such as dimming the lights. If you can point a sprinkler at a window during these training sessions, this may help if sound isn't enough.

Training tip: Always use the same room for desensitization therapy.

Practice, practice, practice
Each day you should spend no more than 5-10 minutes working on desensitization training. You should reward your dog if they obey commands in the face of stimuli. If the correct response is not achieved, the behavior should be ignored.

Training your dog to relax in a specific area (e.g. go to your bed) may be a particularly useful command since the bedding area may further help the dog to relax and settle. Also, blankets placed over the dog crate (if you use one) can mute sounds and intensity for some pups.

Keep it positive
Remember: don’t overdo it and never punish your pet! This can make the thunderstorm phobia and destructive behaviors that follow it even worse. After every few bangs or thunder rolls, give a special treat and engage in play or enjoyable activities.

It’s important to always end a session on a high note with a good response, even if that means turning the volume right down again.

Set reasonable expectations
Don’t give up! The program will take days, weeks, or even months. Eventually, your dog should remain relaxed at full intensity noises.

How to take action when storm season begins:

  • Invest in anxiety-reducing apparel, like thunder coats.

  • Provide background noise for your dog.

  • Get your dog a storm buddy.

  • Talk to your vet about anti-anxiety meds.

  • Look into calming pheromones for dogs.

Final Tip: Start Early to Prevent Storm Phobia

For puppies, prevention of noise phobias is possible through early exposure to as many different stimuli as possible. Habituation during the early, sensitive period of 3-12 weeks of age may help prevent many of the fears and phobias seen in adult dogs.

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