Last Friday I was in Dawson County at a new Home Dog Training client working with him and his Great Dane, Coco.  My client adopted Coco from a Great Dane Rescue Group in Atlanta about four months ago and, for the most part, she had been pretty good.  I was called in to help with some behavior issues stemming from barking at the front door, pulling on the leash, stealing objects and not returning them, and a little bit of food aggression.  We were able to take control of most of these items the very first visit and I provided my client with some homework to practice before our next visit.  As I was preparing to leave, my client had one more question.  We have just started to enter into the “rainy season of Georgia” and Coco always became nervous and afraid whenever she heard thunder or it even started to rain.  He wondered if this was something that could be resolved.

Fear of thunderstorms is somewhat common with many dogs.  It is more prevalent in rescue dogs probably because of their possible “time on the streets” or from being tied up in the back yard.  I told my client that some dogs may never be completely “fine with thunder”, but it can be a fear that can be managed and minimized.

My oldest German Shepherd was born in the Georgia Keys as Hurricane Charlie hit the area in 2004.  From there, he was brought up with the rest of his litter to the Dawson County Humane Society where we rescued him and brought him home.  To this day, he will come into the room and lie under our feet whenever we have a strong rain storm.  He was born into this world in the middle of a hurricane, but has been able to manage his fear and can properly deal with it.

I told my client that this is always our main goal when dealing with rescue dogs and the fear of thunder, lightning, and rain storms.  This is something that we can control and successfully accomplish.  The complete removal of the fear, although possible, should be seen as an extra bonus.

I suggested that my client perform some specific exercises to acclimate Coco to the “thunder environment”.  The first exercise involved imitating the situation and controlling the inappropriate distractions.

  • I told my client to get some soundtracks of thunder storms that he could play for at least 20 minutes at a time.
  • He needed to acclimate Coco to wearing a leash around the house when they were home. The leash should sometimes be on and sometimes off.  This would make it a “non-event” and will remove any of Coco’s focus regarding putting it on, wearing it, taking it off, or not wearing it.
  • Now, I wanted him to play the thunder storm soundtrack at a low level.
  • Be there with Coco and engage her in activities such as obedience commands.
  • He should make sure that he includes calling her to him, petting her, and encouraging her for being such a good girl.
  • He should also give Coco her favorite toys or chew bones while soundtrack was playing. He could also feed her during this time.  These actions would provide Coco with a pleasurable distraction while being involved in the thunder storm environment.
  • During this process, he should observe Coco’s movements to see if she has a “favorite place” she likes to go when she hears the thunder storm soundtrack. This is her “happy/safe place” and should be used as the focus of his redirection activities.
  • I told my client to repeat this action at least once a day. If he could not redirect Coco from any fearful or nervous actions during the exercise, he should immediately stop.  The next time, he should lower the volume.
  • As Coco pays more attention to him and the diverting, positive distractions than to the sound of the thunder storm soundtrack, he should slowly increase the volume. This should be done in very low increments.
  • He needs to remember that dogs have very acute hearing and a small increase in volume in our ears can be the difference between whispering and screaming in her ears.
  • I again reinforced that if he could not easily distract Coco away from the fearful thunder storm sounds, he needed to decrease the volume and slow down the exercise.
  • As he is able to turn up the volume and Coco is more easily distracted with playing, toys, and food; I wanted him to start to cut back on his interaction in the exercise.
  • Allow Coco to find her own toys, bones and food when the thunder storm soundtrack plays.

Once he is completely passive in the exercise, he has succeeded in minimizing Coco’s fear of that inappropriate distraction.

The second exercise I suggested was really the same as the first.  Only this time, it is when they are in the middle of a real thunder storm.

  • First of all, I told him to follow all the steps I had previously laid out in our “fake thunder storm scenario”.
  • In the event that the storm intensified to the point where he could not get Coco’s attention, he needed to calmly walk near her and step on the leash. (You see, there was a reason I wanted that leash on Coco!)
  • He then needed to calmly walk her around the house as far away from the windows as possible.
  • He needs to stop and have her focus on him as he pets her and keeps her directed towards his calm and steadfast demeanor.
  • Once Coco loses her distraction with the thunder storm, he can drop the leash and slowly back off his direct action with her.
  • He always needs to remember that he will have to reengage his direct actions if Coco redirects herself back to the thunder storm.

I told him that if he repeated these exercises on a consistent basis, Coco would definitely be able to handle the thunder storms.  Only time would tell if she would ever ignore them completely.  (Oh, by the way, it is starting to storm this afternoon and my German Shepherd just quietly came in and is lying at my feet…)

Please call us at (770) 718-7704 it you are in need of any dog training help.  We have a lot of good dog training advice at Best Dog Trainers Dawson County Georgia.  Find all our phone numbers, text addresses and email contacts at Dog Training Help Center Dawson County Georgia.