Your News: Thunder and lightning can be frightening

Karen Wild with her class
Karen Wild with her class

We have had some big storms this week. With more to come over the summer months (with hopefully rather less rain) your dog will benefit from some help tackling these terrifying events.

Hearing-sensitive dogs suffer greatly with all noises. The sound of tractors, lorries and birdscarers can send them dashing for cover. In one case I dealt with, the dog was even terrified of tin foil as it emerged from the cupboard. Another dog was petrified of the rattle of a bunch of keys, shaking his head violently.

Dogs have far more sensitive hearing than humans. They can hear to a much higher pitch, and can hear sounds that are far quieter than we can, too. It varies with breed and ear type, but in general terms any kind of rotating mechanism (the lawnmower, or paper shredder) will give off an ear-splitting screech for most dogs.

Hardly surprising, then, when dogs are scared of thunderstorms, or fireworks. These events are impossible for a dog to predict. I imagine the dog must feel like they are suddenly under attack. It is natural for them to run and hide, so provide somewhere your dog can retreat to. One client lets their dog hide in the shower room as it is a small space, more insulated from the noise. A cosy, blanket-lined cubbyhole or crate works well. If your dog dives under the bed or table, allow them to come out in their own time rather than forcing the issue. After all, they probably feel like there is a war going on outside.

Some dogs take on the fight and charge about, barking, in an attempt to scare the noise away. An agitated dog is usually closer to biting, so be careful if you decide to intervene.

Using recorded sound to desensitise your dog gradually can work well, too. Files can be downloaded from the internet, or bought at a pet shop. Whilst the dog is doing something enjoyable, such as eating his favourite dinner, play the sound at a very low volume so that it is barely audible. Over a period of days or weeks, increase the volume until the dog is happily ignoring it. It is not precisely the same, but it can help.

‘Jollying’ is another option. Rather than worrying as much as your dog is, stay happy. By all means let him cuddle you. You can’t make fear worse by reassurance. Even so, staying jolly, playing games and giving tasty food - even doing a simple bit of training, or teach a new trick! All of these give your dog the idea that if you are unconcerned, he will be, too.

With a serious phobia, contact your Vet for help, as they can arrange a referral to a behaviour counsellor. The best results are achieved when the vet and behaviourist work together with you and your sensible but sound-scared mutt.