Establishing a Safe Place For Your Dog, Preparing for Thunder and Fireworks
Beagle dog on bed close-up
In some instances, we can’t always protect our dogs from fears that might come into the house.
The sounds of people, vehicles, thunder and even gun shots can permeate our walls and invade our dog’s homes.
And, when you have a dog that suffers from noise fears, or other fears that may exist in the house (think vacuum) then it is critical to build a safe haven for your dog to go when he feels stress.
I had dogs that were bomb proof.
But as one of my dogs got older, somehow he developed meningitis. The fact that his brain was swollen made normal noises like gun fire, fireworks, and thunderstorms physically painful for him.
I had to decide to make a difference in his life and help him to the best of my ability. I couldn’t stop those things from happening so I had to do what I could to help him feel better.
I cleared out the floor of my closet and I made it a place any dog would want to be. Some dogs may need the safety and confinement of a crate to ensure they don’t hurt themselves or eat your home and things.
It was cool and dark and I placed his favorite therapeutic dog bed inside, along with a slew of toys and treats that would only stay in this safe area.
For thunderstorm phobias, I make sure that no natural light can penetrate the haven. Often time the flashes of light which are associated with the big booms of thunder can cause more panic. If I can block my dog from seeing the flashes of light I have a better chance of keeping it and the noise off of his mind.
If he had not been trustworthy while I was out of the house, I would have put his crate inside the area. And, depending on the dog depends if it is safe, or not safe to leave toys and other things that may be chewed. It is crucial that the dog not panic and ingest anything that could require surgery. It is also critical if the dog must be crated, that you also occasionally crate him while you are in that room with him. Give him a bone stuffed with peanut butter or whatever he really likes and doesn’t get often, but make him accustomed to being left in his crate and thinking it is a good thing.
I make sure the drapes to my bedroom are always closed and drawn, and if I can I layer drapes so very little light gets inside the room. You can also cut pieces of reflective Styrofoam to insert into windows so that no sun will get through the windows. Imagine if you worked at night and needed no light to sleep during the day.
I also have a fan plugged in and turned up high. This white noise helps block the sounds of everything else that is going on outside. I can’t tell you how often a person has snuck up on my house because the dogs were in the bedroom with the fan on and they couldn’t hear the person’s car or footsteps!
Next I make sure I either leave the television on, or I leave a loud radio station on throughout the day.
I don’t care what genre of music you prefer (as long as it is not quiet, like classical) as long as you can crank it high and allow it to drown out even more noise that might bother your dog.
Then it is important to TRAIN for an event.
If the only time you grab your dog and head for his “spot” is when a thunderstorm is looming; your dog will begin to have panic attacks and panic when you grab him or when he is in that room.
The key is to spend time in his safe place often, so that he establishes himself there and learns to have a good time in that area. It is also critical that he is used to all the white noise and TV or music when he is in that room any specific change will signal the dog that the “real deal” is on its way.
I often grabbed a book, or watched a movie (very loudly) while my dog chilled out and chewed on a bone, or snuggled with me on the bed (if this is okay in your home).
By training and staying in that area, I am conditioning him that being inside is a good thing where he has good memories.
Then when the air pressure dropped, I could watch him head into the bedroom.
If I was available, I would go in and watch a movie, take my computer or read a book. But occasionally I would have things to do, or need to leave.
The key was that I gave him a place where he could feel safe and didn’t need to panic. And, it was a place where the white noise drowned out the terrifying things around him!
Even now I have one dog that doesn’t like thunder or gun fire. He knows when he hears it to head into his crate. I even have a crate outside in case he hears something he doesn’t like; and he uses it when he feels that he needs it!
It may not work “perfectly”, sometimes nothing does… but the key is that you are giving him a safe and happy place that will at least lessen the severity of his fears.
If he is terrified, speak to your vet about medications that can help and follow through with the training for this safe place.
For some dogs, the pain associated with their fears requires medication to help them manage quality of life.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.