Low Pressure and Dog Behavior

sheep on lawn 10-28

For the last two days, Willie has been acting abnormally. He regressed back to sleeping in the bathroom, instead of his dog bed beside my bed. He took his stuffed Kong in the morning to his usual place, but then wouldn't eat anything out of it. He came into the office this morning and lay down in the dark cavern underneath my desk. All atypical for him, at least in the last couple of years. There's something else that has changed these last 2 days, and that is the weather. I don't know where you are right now, but in the midwest we've been pummeled by a tsunami of wind. The wind gusts have been over 60 miles an hour, and the roar of it was so loud it kept me from sleeping on Monday night. I thought that the wind noise was probably a significant factor in Willie's change in behavior, Read More

Reinforcing Fear II, Thunder Phobia III

Earlier I wrote that you "can't reinforce fear" and used a dog who is afraid of thunder as an example.  For so long we have been told that we'll just make our dogs worse if we try to comfort them when they run to us in fear when the skies rumble and the rain falls. In this context, it really is doubtful that comforting your dog is going to make him worse. As I said previously, fear is designed to be aversive, and dogs who are terrified of thunder aren't going to get worse because you stroked their belly. Indeed, there is research that some interpret to mean that our petting has little effect at all: As I mentioned in a 2008 Bark column (and an alert reader posted), Dreschel & Granger (Applied Animal Beh Science, 2005) found that cortisol levels, a measure of stress, did not decrease Read More

Thunder Phobia in Dogs

I promised I'd write more about treating thunder phobia in dogs, beyond the earlier posting that it won't make things worse if you try to comfort them. It's such a serious problem for some dogs (and their humans), and everyone who has a dog who suffers from it deserves some help (or just support!). All I can do here is to summarize some of the treatments I have known to work.. a thorough discussion of treatments requires a booklet unto itself . I encourage you to send in comments to let others know what has worked for you, because if there's one thing I've learned, it's that there is no one treatment that works for all dogs. Counter Classical Conditioning: This is the first treatment I recommend, and it is especially effective in mild or moderate cases. I'm doing it now to prevent Read More

You Can’t Reinforce Fear; Dogs and Thunderstorms

It thundered last week during a rain storm, and it reminded me how much trouble a storm can be in the life of a dog (and for those of us who love them.) Since thunder season is approaching, this seems like a good time to talk about one of the oft-repeated, and ever-so-inaccurate pieces of advice handed out to dog owners: "You mustn't pet your dog if he runs to you because he is afraid of thunder." That's just wrong. Totally and completely and utterly wrong, but it has gathered gravitas, as things often do, because it has been repeated over and over again. There are several reasons why that advice is wrong, here's one of them: Fear is designed to be aversive, that's why it is an effective way of affecting behavior and keeping animals out of trouble when they encounter something that might Read More

Thunder Phobia and Your Dog: Good Sounds, Bad Sounds

5 AM. I wake up to Lassie's nails clicking on the floor (wasn't I going to trim them last night?) as a boom of thunder shakes the farmhouse. Damn.  Why is it that Lassie's slight discomfort of storms has become more serious as her hearing degrades?  Surely it should go the other way around. We pad downstairs and lay down together on the carpet, she spooning against me as I stroked her head. (And no, it won't make her more afraid of storms.... check out my column coming out in Bark magazine soon.)  "Eaa-a-a-a-a-a-a-sy" I crooned, using my voice to help her calm herself.  Why didn't I bring the CD home from "Through a Dog's Ear," a new and fantastic book about the effect of sound on dogs? The CD has music designed by the authors to calm dogs, and both it and the book are invaluable Read More