But there is one thing—thunder. When a storm is still miles away he seems to be able to sense it and he cries and whines and cowers next to me. I try to ignore him on the theory that you shouldn’t reward this behavior, but that doesn’t seem to help, and, to be honest, it’s sort of embarrassing. What can I do? Signed, Bud
Dear Bud --
First the lecture. Bowser’s job is not to make you proud. His only job is to be a dog. Just like it’s not really the job of kids to make their parents proud (but this column is not about child-rearing, so we won’t go there.)
Your job, on the other hand, is to make sure that Bowser has a happy life, and that includes dealing with his thunder phobia in a constructive way. Ignoring it is not constructive. Dog behaviorists generally disagree with the common idea that you should ignore a dog when he is becoming anxious and fearful—including during a thunder storm. They basically say that the advice makes no sense–comforting a dog when he is afraid of something is not going to lead to him being afraid in order to get attention. It might not do much good–but it won’t make it worse. If you are terrified of something like thunder, your dog can sense that anxiety in you and become correspondingly anxious, but just calmly petting him does no harm.
For the detailed scoop on how to deal with this problem, which can be very serious for some dogs, we turned to our favorite animal behaviorist, Dr. Patricia McConnell. Her blog, TheOtherEndoftheLeash, www.patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleassh is just terrific. Go to the home page and search for “thunder.” You will find several very informative articles. Dr. McConnell talks about the many strategies for dealing with thunder phobia and similar phobias in dogs. Included as one strategy is the notion of just comforting Bowser and how to go about doing it effectively. Read those articles on her website; talk to your veterinarian for advice; and every time you hear thunder rolling in, give Bowser a big old kiss on the lips. That might not help much either, but you can’t kiss your dog, or your cat, too often.
The Oswego County Humane Society provides spay/neuter services and assistance, fostering and adoption of animals in urgent need, humane education programs, and information and referrals to animal lovers throughout Oswego County. Our office is located at 29 West Seneca Street, Oswego, New York. Phone (315) 207-1070. Email:[email protected] Website: http://www.oswegohumane.org/.