NOTE: The following training advice is relevant to all loud noise phobias such as thunderstorms, fireworks, vacuum cleaners, large crowds, etc.
I’m hoping you can help me. Being that Don is a legend and has probably worked with hundreds of dogs, I assume he has encountered a few dogs that are scared of thunderstorms. I recently had a dog that was absolutely terrified of storms. It became so bad that she ultimately ran into the road as if she was trying to run from the storm. She got hit by a car and soon passed away due to the accident.
However, I’m now in the market for another puppy. Now that I’m aware of Don’s Perfect Dog system, I want to be prepared in case my next dog has the same phobia. So I guess my question to Don is this: Does he have any tips to help prevent my future pup from developing a fear of storms?
How tragic for you and your previous dog! I’m very sad for your loss. There are certainly some dedicated steps you can take in order to ensure your next dog does not suffer the same fate.
If you haven’t yet acquired your new puppy (which seems to me to be the case), the best thing to do is to get in early and test your choice of pups before making a decision. Take some time to isolate them individually to conduct some loud noise experiments with each of them in turn. If you’re able, even simulate a storm using an enclosed room, some digital equipment and a nature CD, or video (I’m sure you’d find something suitable on YouTube). You should do the same for other types of loud noises such as fireworks and vacuum cleaners.
If the breeder or shelter management won’t give you the freedom to conduct such tests, I’d recommend searching elsewhere for a new dog. Don’t let uncooperative people possibly ruin your future relationship with your new canine pal. However, I expect most people would be very understanding – especially if you share with them the fullness of your story.
When conducting your loud noise/storm simulation experiments, you will want to observe each pup closely. Note any pups that seem overly affected by the noises – whether their fearful/nervous reactions are physical, verbal, or both. These pups could be candidates for loud noise phobia, so it would be in your best interest to delete them from your adoption list. Nothing is guaranteed, of course. Displaying adverse signs against loud noises or unusual situations is something a young pup can easily grow out of as the puppy simply gains life experience, but given your past history with dogs, it’s best for you to choose a pup that seems very emotionally stable.
The second best thing you can do as a preventative is give your new puppy as much life experience as possible – as soon as possible (in conjunction with beginning my Perfect Dog training program from Day #1 that you bring your pup home). This includes all kinds of situations with loud noises, busy places with crowds of people, machinery at work, celebrations with fireworks, and definitely extreme weather days. Make an effort to be out “in the thick of things” with your dog – NOT to comfort him, but rather to stand firm and correct him as soon as he starts to cross the threshold of acceptable behavior/displays of emotion.
When you start my Perfect Dog training, you will begin to establish yourself as a solid, dependable authority figure in your new pup’s life such that he will quickly learn to defer to you in all situations. Not only will he will learn to respect your instructions and the new rules and boundaries you set for him inside of and outside of the home, he will also learn to turn to you for direction in all new circumstances i.e. in situations where he’s not sure how he should react or behave because he’s never encountered it before. If you coddle or placate your dog (in any way) in situations where his emotions could potentially escalate, your dog will immediately interpret your words and body language as weak and scared. He will have lost his leader to rely on for protection, and he will immediately feel uncertain and unstable.
It’s very tempting for many dog owners to want to try to soothe their dogs into calm thoughts and calm behavior. They say, “Oh, there…there… It’s okay… Everything is going to be fine…!” Then they shower their dogs with cuddles – and even scoop up their dogs into their loving arms to shelter their dogs from the big bad noise! But, these kinds of verbal and physical reactions toward a scared or uncertain dog only serve to feed that dog’s negative emotions. What the owner is attempting to accomplish actually backfires on them, and they exacerbate the problem rather than resolving it. A frightened or nervous dog desperately needs a strong authority figure to lean on. The dog needs to see his leader confidently take charge. Then that unstable dog can rest and trust that the outcome will be okay.
The other thing to emphasize is the importance of boundary line training. I’m confident to say that your previous dog would have chosen a different course of action (versus running out into the road) had he been thoroughly trained with the boundary line techniques in my Perfect Dog system. (See Question #4 on the FAQs page of my website for a detailed list of all of the training lessons covered in my DVD set.)
My boundary line techniques are unique and amazingly effective. They have saved many of my dogs – and many others’ dogs around the world – from potentially disastrous situations. You can’t always control your environment and what your dog is exposed to. Unexpected things happen and it’s comforting to know that your dog is trained to completely respect the boundary lines you have established for him e.g. at the front doorway, the front gate/fence, all road curbs, etc. The dogs are trained to understand (and respect) that these are absolute “no go” zones (unless specifically invited across the boundary line by their owner).
So, in short, prevention is the key when dealing with storm/loud noise phobias. Make the best choice you can when selecting your new pup and then train, train, train. My Perfect Dog system will give you all the tools and knowledge you need in order to lay a sound foundation of respect for you as your pup’s new master, and it will enable you to set up a variety of “out of bounds” areas that your dog will know never to cross on his own. Then, reinforce the relationship of respect you have built with your dog at every opportunity and in all kinds of situations.
Now, if you happen to know some people with an older dog that has a deeply rooted fear of thunderstorms and/or other loud noises (e.g. fireworks), rehabilitative training can prove to be difficult. The owners can try training according to my advice above, but ultimately the dog’s emotional default might be so ingrained that it can never be fully resolved. In this case, the owners might have to simply enclose their dog in a room (furthest away from the noise with the windows closed and curtains shut) and put on some soothing music. There are some calming pet-specific CDs that can be purchased in stores or online that the owners might want to consider. Some are better than others. Browse the customer reviews to help determine which set would be best.
– Don Sullivan, “The DogFather”
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