Our dogs live in our world. And this world can be extremely scary and worrying for our furry friends.
Why Are Our Dogs Scared Of Thunder? Why are they scared of Fireworks? Why are dogs scared of loud noises?
We as owners have to remember that a dog’s hearing is far more acute than ours. Scientific research suggests that a dog can hear over four times better than we do and can pinpoint sound sources and that in its self is pretty amazing!
Just imagine that as a superpower for us humans!
In fact, many of the things that happen in our lives we have learned to get used to and understand over the years.
As humans, we grow up and certain things get explained to us so that we don’t need to be afraid of them an more.
Certain smells and sounds can cause us concern but once we learn what they are and why they are happening, the fear factor in us can easily subside.
In dogs, this is very different. Most experts will say that our dogs generally stay as playful puppies all of their lives and this is not a problem for us as long as our dogs see us as their leader, their alpha, then the levels of stress in their lives can easily be diminished also.
As humans, we are taught that self-esteem is important and of course it is. It makes us feel good about ourselves and if we feel good about our selves, we are more productive and happier as a result.
A good example of how we as owners should look at our dogs is thinking about how we look at children.
In fact, many owners sometimes refer to their dogs as “fur babies” and this is endearing as well as factually accurate.
The thing with children is they behave like children for only a few years of their lives. They get worried and anxious and we as grown-ups can settle those fears with words and reassurance.
We also need to be in charge of our children and no matter how smart they think they are or how confidently they behave, we have to not allow them to take charge of us and this is where the similarities with our pet dogs come into play.
We also want our dogs to be happy too, but we can not afford them the luxury of feeling that they are in control. If we allow this, then our dogs won’t see us as Alpha or pack leader and chaos will ensue.
A dog’s happiness in a domestic situation is geared to understanding and knowing where their place is within the pack.
We as owners are doing everything for them. We are providing shelter, food and water and love and also a good life of protection so it’s important to understand that you have to be in charge of pretty much every aspect of their lives.
Where this can fall down externally is when certain things happen outside of our control.
Specifically climatic and environmental occurrences that can render our dogs anxious and in certain cases, into serious danger.
I will outline three specific areas that I have had experience in and I will explain them with a simple to follow a strategy that has worked equally well at all times.
As with everything we have learned thus far, it may well take repetition on a number of occasions to make these methods work but they are all safe and rewarding for you and your dog and they really will improve your dogs happiness, lower their fears and anxieties and make for an all-round happier relationship for you both.
Road Traffic and Cars Backfiring
When I was growing up I can remember dogs chasing cars on a regular basis. As a child, this always fascinated me and worried me too.
What is a car hit the poor dog? Or worse still, hit another car or person whilst trying to avoid the dog?
Some dogs are very fearful of vehicles and they behave in different ways but the three main ways are always the same.
Our dogs have the “Fight, Freeze, Flee” hard-wired into them also.
Dogs that are fearful of the noise of cars will always react in one of these ways and they all have the potential for great harm for our dogs and other road users.
What I have done with a dog fearful of vehicles and the associated noises that come with them is to to try to reprogram the way your dog responds to them.
With a dog that is fearful of cars and vehicles, we have to break that association by getting our dogs to learn that there is nothing to be worried about and to ignore the sounds.
I have had a fearful dog like this and this is what I did.
I took my dog out for a walk at the busiest time of the day traffic-wise. She was not too pleased, but after getting outside of the house and armed with a pocket of treats, off we went into the main town where the traffic was heaviest and noisiest.
Now Polly, my Greyhound at the time was extremely nervous and would freeze. Completely still and would not move when a car went past us.
I also would stop, loosen the lead a little and stand with her and then open my hand with a small treat and ask her to come to me.
When she did, she would get the treat and we would continue walking.
If she continued to freeze I would just patiently wait and then repeat the command to “come” with my outstretched hand holding a treat.
I would repeat this for the entirety of the walk and gradually, as she was focusing on the treats, other cars would drive by and she started to ignore them.
I continued doing this with her for about 2 weeks until she associated walks with treats and ignored all of the traffic around her both outside on walks and the sounds of cars whilst in the house.
It really did work much better than I first thought it would do.
She had been a racer in her day and although she would have been used to cars, there was something in her past that caused her stress.
It was important for her to build a new association with cars and being near them was not always a bad thing for her as she got treats for not freezing and as I say, after a couple of weeks she was much happier.
From then on when we went for walks she was always looking at me and my pocket where the treats were and although she didn’t get one every single time, she was no longer bothered at all by cars or the noises they made.
If for any reason a car backfired or a horn sounded that startled both of us, I would repeat the training and get her to come to me and get a treat and this reduced her stress levels and we enjoyed walks once again.
Try this approach and you will amazed by the results. It’s basic redirection and it works.
When Will You Make My Telephone Ring?
It’s a song by Deacon Blue and a good one at that. However, when I lived in a house that had an old hard wired telephone installed, the bell ringer on it was extremely loud.
They were a few years back over here in the UK and the sound could be quite deafening to me and also my dog Albert.
When the phone rang, he would bark and bark and get very very agitated. My wife also added to the anxiety by rushing to the phone as quick as she could just to stop him barking and this action of hers actually made it worse as Albert was associating this negativity and stress with the sound.
We had to come up with a plan and this is what we did.
I sat with Albert one day and casually put his lead on and just sat quietly. He had thought he was going out for a walk, but eventually, he sat down and I slackened the lead so he was feeling calm.
I then took out my cell phone and rang my home telephone line.
Sure enough, Albert was straight up and the barking started and I just sat there on the couch and completely ignored the phone ringing.
Albert continued to bark and pull and the phone continued to ring. I stayed calm and completely ignored him.
He turned his head and barked at me and I still ignored it. I then turned off the call from my cell.
When Albert stopped barking, I re-engaged with him and gave him a small treat.
I waited for him to settle and then I rang the phone again and repeated the process a couple more times and each time he did seem to bark less.
He was working out in his mind that I was not bothered about the phone ringing and had not even got up to run to it like my wife had done before, therefore it wasn’t stressing him as much…..plus this time, he was actually getting treats when the phone stopped ringing.
I continued doing this for another 30 minutes or so and gradually as Albert stopped barking as much, I could give him a treat AS the phone was still ringing!
What I had done is to break his association with the phone ringing as being a stressful and worrying thing for him and turn it into a positive experience.
He was learning that if his “Alpha” (me) wasn’t bothered about it, then why should he be bothered about it?
This really works well and again, if you try this and give yourself a time frame to achieve it of say a couple of hours, then you can crack this one easily.
Fireworks And Thunder
One of the very best ways that I have found to get your dog used to thunder and fireworks is to expose them early on to these sounds by the power of using television and home audio.
All four of my dogs have been rescued dogs and had never lived in a home until they came to me. Each one was different and they settled at differing timescales.
However, one thing was constant. They had never seen a TV before.
Now TV’s these days are like home audio theatres with big screens, great surround sound aspects and also usually hooked into the internet.
You can get Youtube and Netflix as standard these days and these resources are going to make the next piece of training a lot more fun for you too.
I get my dogs used to TV quickly and I make sure I put on programs that have the sounds of dogs, Wolves etc and it’s fun to watch them look at the telly and try to work out what is going on.
I d this with nature programs and also I use audio programs on Youtube that have sounds of Thunder and Fireworks with soothing music sounding also.
Again, this takes time but what we are doing is conditioning our dogs hearing to normalize these sounds, some natural in terms of Thunder and to get them to build a positive association with the bangs and cracks of Fireworks.
Again, keep the treats handy and reward your dog for their positive responses.
This takes time and our dogs mirror the way we as ALPHA behave, so always be mindful of how you act when hearing noises too.
There are great products on the market that can help with calming your dog during the festive season and I would highly recommend:
Another great tip that is really helpful and useful can be found on our video page and is all about a great homeopathic way to calm your dog!
However, we can do a lot to condition our dogs way ahead of these times if we associate reward-based training systems like getting them used to the sounds via home-based media.
Try these helpful tips out and please let me know how you get on or if you have some tips you can share.