Thunder terror

With loud booms and bright flashes, it’s no wonder thunderstorms are fur-rightful for Fido. Here are five tips to help your pooch overcome its fear of the impending downpour.
By Gillian Lim
Published on Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Thunder rumbles in the distance, the sky starts to turn dark, and your furkid starts to pant and tremble uncontrollably. Darting around and visibly terrified, he desperately searches for a hiding place. He may even become aggressive or injure himself in his panicked state. “I know of a dog that once knocked a shelf full of aromatherapy oils to the ground and wrecked the room,” shares Marie Choo, a dog behaviourist and trainer at The Dog Alchemist. If this sounds familiar to you, don’t fret just yet.

Storm or thunder phobia happens far more often than you think. According to a 2015 study by the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, almost one in every four dogs are fearful of loud noises. Storm phobia can be attributed to several triggers: A drop in air pressure, the build-up of static electricity, the sound of the wind, the scent of the oncoming rain, bright flashes of lightning, or the loud crash of thunder. Still, the triggers and severity of a pup’s anxiety differ from dog to dog. But with some trial and error, there’s bound to be a way to wait the storm out without sparking off your canine’s anxiety. Read on for our best tips.

Thunder treats
The key to overcoming Fido’s storm phobia: Make him think that storms are good. Find something that your pooch loves—it could be his favourite treat or toy—and as soon as the storm clouds start appearing on the horizon, give it to him. Just like how clickers in clicker training are used to associate an action with a treat, your goal would be to get your furry friend to perceive thunder as a predictor of something good. This works best with mild or moderate cases.

On the preventive front, you can desensitise your pet to the trigger even before the storm hits. “Start off by playing the offending sound, like thunder, at a low volume and reward him with food treats and praise him if he remains calm,” explains Marie. As the exercise progresses, you can slowly increase the volume. “When you get to the sound level that causes your pet to react negatively, take a step back and decrease it to a volume he can tolerate.”

Music to Fido's ears
Not only does soothing music drown out the claps of thunder, it also calibrates the dog’s mindset to be calm and make him think of the positive experiences associated with the relaxing music. If your pet is calm, you should reward his behaviour with treats and praises. “This shift of mindset can help the dog to focus on positive things, instead of focusing on the looming or oncoming storm,” shares Marie.

While any peaceful, slow track might do the trick, there’s actually music specially composed for Fido to tackle this particular situation. For example, Pomi Ramirez created a 52-minute musical piece titled Radio Dog to help dogs achieve a calm, relaxed state—the music weaves in the sounds of nature and the murmurs of a farm together with simple harmonies.

For more tips on how to keep Fido calm before and after the storm hits, flip to Together Time (pg 58) of our Aug/Sept 2017 issue!