By Jennifer Kyzer, Master Trainer and Behavior Specialist
Helping Dogs with Storm Fear
Does your dog cower, pace, shake, or cling to you during a storm? Fear in dogs (including fear of storms) can be calmed with clear and concise energy. Most critically, it needs to be treated with a matter of fact approach.
Remember, for fear related issues, this is considered escalated behavior and should be calmed with a matter of fact energy. This is because if your dog is in a fearful state, hesitation and affection are seen as weakness to them. As hard as it is, be sure to not give affection to your dog when they are in a fearful state. You should go to him, standing tall, leash close (if leash is on) and take deep breaths, using body language to block their flight when necessary.
It can often be helpful to give your pup work to do when they are fearful of something. For instance, have them follow you around the house as you are getting ready. Practice sits, downs and stays as you are brushing your teeth, etc. When you transition from on room to room, direct your dog to come with you with a “with me” command, tapping your thigh, especially if your dog tends to follow you around. This will have you engaging them and commanding them. Soon your dog will follow you less often and you can interchange “with me” with “stay” to have the pup stay while you briefly leave their sight.
Direct your dog to do commands often, initiate interaction with them, teach them something new and practice all the commands they know. Also remember to stick with each command until he complies, not getting frustrated, just being patient and waiting for him to follow through. Not talking, using body language, deep breaths and hand signals will help you to remain calm. Showing your dog that you are consistent is beneficial to having your dog comply each time they are asked a command.
Another handy tool to have available during storms is the settle command, used to calm a dog on command. Using this technique, you calm your dog by using your hands spread on their body, applying pressure but not moving your hand, and breathing deeply. Be careful not to give affection by baby talking or petting during the calming phase. Taking deep breaths help to calm yourself, which will also help to calm your dog.
Many dogs with storm fear will retreat to a safe part of the home - a room with no windows, a bathtub or closet. Most of the time, this is a coping behavior and should be allowed. Checking on the pup and quickly reassuring him that everything is fine, still without giving affection, is acceptable. Once the storm is finished, it can be helpful to do a few minutes of training - asking your dog to complete commands he know and reward with treats.
As with so much else in dog behavior, an attitude of leadership and the right energy will help you and your dog weather the storm together!