FAQs / TUESDAY’S TAIL / News / Map & Directions / email_us@barkavenueplaycare.com

Weekdays: 6:30am–8:30pm
Weekends & Holidays:


— May 22, 2012 —

Dog Trainer, Train Thyself!
(or, Is That a Thundershirt you’ re Wearing?)
by Patience Hayes

Last Summer, I went on vacation for the 4th of July. My nephew stayed at my house to care for my animals—3 cats and two dogs, THOR! and GoGo. THOR! and GoGo are Cane Corsos. THOR! was abandoned by his original owner, and GoGo was previously a drug house dog. This was in Chicago, and my home was very close to “the lake”, as we call it, ’cause everybody knows it’s Lake Michigan! As you might imagine, the lakefront is a hot bed of celebration and activity on the 4th of July! We are talking unleashed fireworks! Anyone who can get ’em can set ’em off on the beach. Allan, my nephew had been staying with me for a brief period. During that time, we frequently took the dogs to the lake. Allan thought nothing of it when he took them to the lake early that evening. He quickly realized his mistake, when the fireworks began to go off. (Lots of people simply cannot wait for nightfall and are anxious to get an early start on the merry-making!) THOR!, being named for the God of Thunder, himself, thought it was a barking contest and joined in to “throw down his hammer”! As for GoGo, my most recent rescue, the story was different. She got nervous and her nervousness began to escalate. For his part, Allan thought of the “gangsta” drug house in which GoGo had reportedly been living. “Gunfire!!”, he thought. “That’s probably what she thinks this is! Gunfire! No wonder she’s scared!” He couldn’t get away fast enough! In order to control the “panic”, Allan kept both dogs in a “heel” for the entire walk home—about 6 blocks. (Looks like some of my training paid off!)

They spent the rest of the evening inside, all the while, Allan winced every time a loud boom went off, feeling much empathy for GoGo’s fear. He did what he could to soothe her. When I got home, a few days later, Allan thought it very important to report about GoGo’s phobia. But, here’s the thing: GoGo had been living with us, since early March; surely there had been some thunderstorms; Why had we not noticed this before? Well, Chicago isn’t the South and, unlike the South, thunderstorms seem to be restricted to Summer months. Perhaps we hadn’t had any thunder, after all…

Fast forward to late July. Allan has returned to the hills of North Carolina, and I am on my own again. One night, there began a mighty thunderstorm! I mean, one of those pre-boom cracks was enough to make me jump out of my skin! The boom that followed really was scary, even for someone like me who doesn’t have even have a healthy fear of thunder! GoGo got up and went to her bed, in my bedroom. I want to interrupt my story, here… By now, I had advised many a friend and client on how to deal with their dog’s fear of thunder. I had done loads of research on the matter and had given loads of advice. What I hadn’t had, up to that point, is personal experience. Wow! Now the know-it-all dog trainer has a thunder-fearing dog! What’s she gonna do? Now, back to GoGo…

Well, I’d be darned if I was gonna let GoGo go to her bed and cower!

“GoGo, what are you doing in here?”, I asked. She lay on her bed and cut her eyes at me, wondering what the heck I was saying.

“Come on!”, I said. “Let’s go to the kitchen!”

“Huh?” see said with her eyes.
“Seriously! C’mon!”, I said and went off toward the kitchen. GoGo followed, and THOR! joined in. Again, GoGo looked at me with uncertainty. “BOOM!”, went the thunder, and GoGo cowered. Without hesitation I laughed and acted like we were having a party. “Really??”, she seemed to say with her eyes. “Really!”, I thought and started giving both dogs treats. Her eyes brightened as she and THOR! ate treats. She gave a tentative wag of her tail. I laughed again; more treats, more tail wagging, and praise, then, BOOM!, we were having a “thunder party”! “BOOM” went the thunder; laugh went the Mommy; and the dogs got treated. We all trotted back to the living room—well they trotted, while I skipped, but you get the idea… more treats… more laughs…

While THOR! was already thunder-proof, so-to-speak, the thunder on this particular night was enough to intimidate King Kong! And, GoGo was another matter. Still, I had to wonder just how much Allan’s empathy played a part in GoGo’s reaction on the 4th of July. I was practically giddy, except for the fact that there were no witnesses. There was no video to play for clients. Was it really that easy? Here was solid proof that NOT coddling your dog’s fear actually works! I gave her fear no credence in my household; I told her how to feel about it; I set her attitude in motion. I had given all this advice, yet had no idea just how easy it is to do if you believe in it! (One cannot go through the motions and expect it to be effective.) There was absolutely no room for any “Poor Baby” attitude! If you show your dog that there is nothing to fear, your dog will fear nothing. Well, kinda…

Obviously, with old Sadie, who is 13 years old and has had thunder fear for years, and had Mommy stroking her and getting nervous at every approaching storm, silly laughter and treat-pumping probably won’t work overnight, but there are a number of desensitizing exercises that can be very helpful. There is a product called the “Thundershirt” that some people use with success, and there is loads of sound advice on the internet. The reason that I tell this story is because it so clearly demonstrates what we dog trainers have been saying for years: “Don’t coddle your dog!” It is truly NOT the kindest thing to do! It does not mean you love your dog more than the next guy. So, go on; be bold! Be strong for your dog, because that is the kindest thing you can do for him or her. You are, after all—just as with your human children—the leader. Who needs a wimpy leader?

PLEASE NOTE: The purpose of this story is to demonstrate the value of strong and kind leadership for your dog. It is not a how-to for dealing with extreme cases. Veterinarians and animal behaviorists believe that some dogs fear storms, because of the static electrical charges. Such dogs may be comforted by hiding in a bathroom, particularly in an interior one with no windows. Hiding or lying in the bathtub can be very comforting for some dogs. For those of you seeking help with your “thunder-struck” pup, here are some links.





Patience Hayes “Canine Etiquette Consultant” is the owner of Doggie Manners with Patience in Augusta, Georgia. She can be contacted at Beasty914@yahoo.com or 312-720-9561.