Dear Sarah, August 17

Our last dog had a really bad storm phobia. We’ve just got a new puppy and don’t want him to have the same issues. Is there anything we can do to prevent him from being terrified during storms?

Joanna Z

Hi Joanna,

Storms can be quite scary for dogs, and in the Northern Rivers area, August often heralds the start of storm season, so your question is perfectly timed!

Like with many things, prevention is better than cure – so with new puppies, providing a really pleasurable experience while the storm is happening is a great way to pair good things with something that is potentially pretty frightening.

To do this, try the following – sit down with your puppy the next time a storm is on. Have some yummy treats or his favourite toy ready. When you see the flash of lightening, whip out the treats and start feeding (or whip out the toy and start playing). Make the treats small, because you might end up going through a few of them! Continuing playing or feeding all the way through the rumbling of the thunder, keeping your voice light and making whatever you’re doing REALLY fun. When the thunder stops, the play and/or treats stop. Repeat again with the next flash of lightening and clap of thunder, and continue this for the duration of the storm (or at least until the storm starts to move on).

What you’re doing is something which is called ‘classical conditioning’. You are conditioning your puppy that the flash of lightening – rather than signalling a scary noise is coming – actually signals that a fun game or lots of yummy treats are about to start. It’s like if after a flash of lightening, hundred dollar notes started raining from the sky (along with the thunder), chances are everyone would be pretty excited about storm season!

While this process might seem a little tiresome and lengthy (especially if we have one of those storms that seems to go on and on!), if you were to practice this for the first 3 or 4 storms of the season, you would be well on your way to having a puppy who grows up not being bothered by storms at all.

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