Many dogs, large or small, can be afraid of the most simple things in life. To us (usually) rational humans, we cannot understand why our puppies shiver and hide during a thunderstorm or why a perfectly harmless relative causes our furry friends to run in the other direction. There is not just one answer for these behaviors but there are some easy activities to desensitize for your dog from these terrifying situations.
Thunderstorms are a relatively understandable thing to be afraid of – the loud crashing, rattling windows, pounding rain and loud winds scare small children. It only makes sense for it to frighten our pets as well. But why are some dogs completely unaware of Mother Nature’s fury and others think it’s the apocalypse? There is no real answer for this. However, treating the behavior works the same for every dog.
Most dog owners want to comfort their dog by petting them, keeping them on their laps or talking in a soothing tone. These actions only reinforce their fear as this gives them the impression there actually is something to fear. Instead of soothing your puppy, try distracting him with toys, playing or command words. Talking in an upbeat, playful tone will help your dog forget about the “big booms” outside and focus on your sudden excitement. Avoid giving treats or bones during a thunderstorm as this is positive reinforcement for the fearful behavior you are trying to stop.
Another option is to find a recording of a thunderstorm and play it very low while you play with your dog. Each day or week, slowly raise the volume and continue their favorite activities. Soon, your dog will associate these noises with good things and not disaster.
Don’t Take Candy from Strangers!
While this is good advice for our children, we all would like our dogs to accept the guests in our homes without hiding the entire evening. Some dogs are fearful of new people because they were not introduced to other humans as a puppy. Others seem to develop this fear for no reason at all. Regardless of the reasoning behind it, there are ways to help your dog be the chipper door man for everyone.
If your dog reacts to new people by hiding or running away, try keeping him on a leash the next time someone comes over. Allow the visitor to talk to the dog from his level in a soft, soothing tone. Do this for only short periods so as to not stress your pup. After a few minutes, allow the visitor to feed your dog his favorite treat. Have your guest place the treat on the ground near your pup. With each treat, move it closer and closer to your guest until your dog is eating from their hand. Continue this routine with each new person that visits.
Ah, the dreaded nail clippers or brushes or garbage bags (yes, we said garbage bags). Many dogs are afraid of the most random objects. Maybe your dog was fine getting his nails trimmed but those new pair of clippers look like some torture device to him now. If your notice your puppy acting fearful of a certain object, try introducing it to him slowly.
Sit on the floor with the object at your side, out of sight for your pup. Call him over with a cheerful, playful voice and have him sit in front of you. (Depending on the extent of his fear, it may be best to place him on a leash at first). Reward his behavior with a small treat. Slowly move the object into sight, making sure to act like it’s no big deal. Reward your dog with a small treat. Keep moving the object closer to your dog, being sure to only reward him when he is sitting and not retreating. Continue this process each day until you can hold the object and touch your dog with it. This is positive reinforcement and will encourage your dog to associate this object with a pleasant experience.
Remember, you know your dog best. Do not push him too far too quickly. This, like any other learning exercise, takes time and is a process. With patience and consistency, your dog will feel like Superman in his own right!