Fearful Dogs: Thunder and Other Noises
Thunder storms, fireworks and other loud, noises often make dogs frightened and wanting to run to a safer place. This type of fear may develop even though your dog has had no trauma associated with the loud sounds. The fear might develop all at once due to an event. We had an experience that turned a dog several years old into a frightened shivering wreck at the first sounds of thunder or firecrackers. A neighbors kid decided one fourth of July evening to turn the space between their house and ours into a war zone with the firecracker blast reverberating off our respective houses . It did not last long before we put a stop to the activity but the dog was never the same again. I did not know what to do at the time but now I have learned. Many fear-related behaviors can be successfully resolved. If left untreated, however, your dog’s behavior like the mentioned above can go on for the remainder of the dog’s life.
Dog’s most common behavior problems associated with fear of loud noises are destruction and escaping. The episodes described by John Grogan in his book Marley and me include a great description of the extremes of both reactions.
When your dog becomes scared, she attempts to reduce her fear. If she has this noise phobia she will try to escape to a place where the sounds of thunder or firecrackers are less intense. She might react by leaving the yard or going into a certain room or area of the house where she feels less afraid. If she succeeds with this maneuver, then the escape behavior is reinforced because it successfully lessens her fear. For some dogs, just the activity or physical exertion associated with destructive behaviors or may be an outlet for their anxiety. Problem is, escape and/or destructive behavior can have consequences for you and could result in physical injury to your dog as well. Riding or walking the subdivision for hours looking for the dog is no fun. Dogs may begin to associate a particular startling noise with other things in her environment, and grow afraid of these associated things because she relates them with the loud noise that frightens her. For instance, dogs that are frightened by thunder may later become afraid of the wind, dark clouds, and flashes of light that they associate the sound of thunder. In the case of the dog mentioned above from the time the fear of firecrackers and thunder developed he would not allow us to take his picture the flash he associated with the flash of lightening. Dogs who do not like the sound of firecrackers may become fearful of the people who fired the firecrackers or they may become afraid to go in the backyard, if that’s where they usually hear the noises of the storm or fireworks.
What You Can Do to Help, create a safe place for your dog to go to when she hears the noises that frighten her. This must be a safe place from her perspective, not yours. Pay attention where she retreats to, when she’s frightened, and if possible, make that place accessible to her. If she’s attempting to get inside the house, you might install a doggy door. If she’s trying to get under your bed, give her access to your bedroom.
You could create a “hiding place” that is dark, small, and shielded from the frightening sound as much as possible. Encourage her to go there when you’re home and the thunder or other noise occurs. Then when you are away you won’t come home to a wrecked house such as the Grogans did when Marley reacted to summer storms when they were away. Consider leaving a radio playing near the “hiding place” to help block out the sound. Feed her in that location and help your dog associate that spot with other “good things” happening to her there. She has to be able to come and go from the “hiding place” as she pleases. Do not confine her in the “hiding place” when she doesn’t want to be there, this will only cause more problems. The “safe place” approach works with some dogs, but not all. Those dogs that want to move and be active when frightened will not be satisfied with “hiding out” it will not help them feel less fearful.