Yes, You May Comfort Your Dog!

Summer is afraid of thunder, fireworks, and other booms and squeaks
Summer is afraid of thunder, fireworks, and other loud noises

Just a quick reminder for the upcoming fourth of July holiday in the U.S. with the attendant loud booming noises.

  1. Behaviors can be reinforced.
  2. Emotions can’t.
  3. Fear is an emotion.
  4. If you comfort your fearful dog, it doesn’t somehow “reinforce” the fear and make them more scared next time.

But don’t take my word for it.

Take Dr. Patricia McConnell’s: You Can’t Reinforce Fear; Dogs and Thunderstorms

Or Suzanne Clothier’s: Calming the Fearful Dog

And this post by Tena Parker has both information on fear and also some other great safety and preparation tips: Fearful Fourth of July

Everybody’s dog is different. Maybe your dog profits from just hanging out with you. Or maybe you make her more nervous and she’d rather get in a crate. If she isn’t too scared to eat, maybe she would like a food toy. You can judge what helps the most.

At my house, whenever possible during fireworks or thunder, we all troop to the bedroom. Summer gets on the bed with me and cuddles. I give everybody spray cheese every time it booms. Clara and Zani consequently LOVE thunderstorms. And Summer feels better being near me and profits from the routine.

Thanks for reading! You can go cuddle your dog! (And keep your gates locked and your dogs’ identification items on.)

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30 thoughts on “Yes, You May Comfort Your Dog!

  1. We had our Canada Day fireworks last night and I felt so bad as I live next to a ball field and there were alot of very loud (very close to homes)fireworks. Many (most) of the homes that back on the field have pets. I’m fortunate that it’s not a problem with my dogs, but I know of several dogs that really put in a VERY bad night. I wish there was a law that prohibited setting off fireworks so close to homes. I wonder how many pets bolted and are lost? I always reassure and comfort my girls if they are fearful, that’s my job.

    1. I’ve always wondered if that’s what happened to Summer before I got her. She was picked up by a small town animal control in the month of July.

      “That’s my job.” That’s a wonderful way of saying it, Marjorie. Mine too. If they can’t look to us…..?

      1. There was a Golden Revriever down the street that was put out in their 6 foot fenced yard around 11pm on a New Years Eve for his last pee break of the night. Someone had jumped the gun on the fire works and started early. The dog jumped the fence and went missing in a Canadian winter for over three months. He was eventually found back in the woods in very bad condition and has never been the same since. However, he had a better fate than a Great Dane the same night whose owner got caught off guard and got the leashed ripped out of her had and the dog went through the ice in the lake never to be recovered. It’s amazing how much distance a terrified animal can cover in a very short time. I think many dogs (cats too)are lost due to fireworks & lightening. I’m not against fireworks, I just wish people would be more responsible about using them.

        1. What horrible stories. Before I got my yard fenced, one night I let Gadget out to pee. He was very reliable about coming in when I called, so this was normal routine for us. It was not July 4, it was sometime in June. My next door neighbors were having a party and unbeknownst to me they had bought serious fireworks. A very loud, very bright firework went off, and Gadget, but was not normally afraid of loud noises like thunder or fireworks, bolted in sheer terror into the woods. My personal care assistants and I went out looking for him, was she in my van and me and my chair, calling and calling. I was terrified. Fortunately he returned in two hours, and was none the worse for wear. But I was really angry that my neighbors had not worked out ahead of time that they would be shooting off fireworks.

          PS — Barnum has also never been afraid of fireworks or thunder, but I did start with him as a puppy playing sound effects CDs at low volumes and then increasing them over time while also pairing them with play or treats. And even now if there is loud thunder I will just toss some good treats.

          1. That’s so scary about Gadget. A good reminder than none of us is immune to this kind of mishap. We can’t control our neighbors…

            That’s such a good idea to continue to toss a prophylactic treat now and then. I remember joking with my teacher, saying how Zani and Clara look forward to the thunder since they like the treats. I was thinking, what a waste. She said, “That’s how we want it!!” Yet another reminder to me to be proactive more than reactive. Proactive should be a clicker trainer’s middle name….

        2. My border collie was terrified of fireworks thunder and gunshots but he was smart enough to bolt back towards the house or car rather than away from it. If we got caught out in a thunderstorm on a hike and he bolted all I had to do was walk back to the car and there he’d be, waiting to get inside and go home. I never thought much of it at the time, I just took it for granted but now I’m grateful he was such a clever dog otherwise I’d have lost him many times over!

  2. Thank you for this! Just the other day I saw someone on Facebook say something along the lines of, “Behavior experts say not to coddle your dog because it justifies their fear.” I almost wanted to demand she show me exactly which behavior experts said that.

    Fortunately, Edward could care less about thunder or fireworks. Snores right through it! 🙂

    1. I think it’s safe to say that I have never seen a credentialed behavior expert say that! And we can find plenty of real ones who say the opposite. Glad Edward isn’t bothered. That’s a blessing!

  3. Once again, a great blog. Love you way you share links to some other well known trainers/behaviourists for another, similar opinion. x x

  4. Thank you, finally someone putting another dog myth to rest. We have always and will continue to comfort our dog when there are storms and fireworks. There will be both in our area tomorrow, so she will get her thundershirt and lots of cuddling.

  5. I’m looking for any and all advice..I have a 1 yr old rescue pit bull who lived on the streets in an urban area…he is terrified of storms, motorcycles (which my husband and I both ride), and fireworks to name a few…I’ve tried thunder shirts, relaxation oils, and prescription drugs…none of which works….my heart breaks for him this time of year…

    1. Nina, I’m so sorry. That must be so hard for you all. Sounds like you have already hit the main solutions. One thing I have done which goes against the prevailing practice of relaxation music is to play fairly loud rock and roll music during the worst of it. (I would not do that if my dogs weren’t already used to it.) Anyway it can drown out some of the noise and is less unpleasant to Summer than the booms. Maybe someone else will chime in. Good luck.

  6. The only time I have suggested that owners don’t hang out and comfort their dogs is if they are nervous themselves.

    There was a study done with horses that showed when the person leading them was told a potentially scary event was coming (even if the scary event never did happen) both the person AND the horse being led got more nervous. There is a real transfer of emotion happening and if you are concerned that fireworks or thunderstorms ARE SCARY and MAY SPOOK YOUR DOG then you are likely not sending “CALM” vibes to your dog even if you are intending to offer comfort.

    So I am wondering if the “comforting” had “nervous energy” behind it then wouldn’t this probably increase their fear during the event – and couldn’t that perhaps over time increase a phobia?

    1. I’m curious about it too. Not all of my dogs have been very in tune with me and my feeling about things but some have. It’s certainly something to consider. I’d be interested on the same study done with dogs. On the one hand, horses are a prey animal and probably more naturally reactive to any kind of danger. On the other, dogs are so very skilled at reading us. Thanks for the comment! Lots of stuff to think about.

  7. Your Summer looks just like my Libby Lu, only I can’t comfort her anymore. After more than a week of fireworks, thunderstorms, and a vet visit, she woke us yesterday morning having a grand mal seizure. She kept on having them, one after another until we got her to the emergency vet clinic. Her temperature was 109 when we got there, and the vet thought there was permanent brain damage, so we had to have her put to sleep as we couldn ‘t afford the $1,000 for her treatment. The vet was probably right a out the brain damage. I sat with her and petted her and talked to her while they were doing it, and she didn’t react at all or seem to know me.

    So yes, go give your doggies an extra cuddle for Libby Lu

  8. Thanks so much for this post. I just shared it with a friend who was ready to re-home a fearful tiny dog at the advice of a “dog trainer of 19 years.” This train was reported as saying, “It’s best for the dog. He needs a quiet home.”

    I’m happy to report that my friend is now working with the dog after consulting a Vet (no help there) and several dog blogs (good, effective observations and experience). I am a fan of your writing and new follower of your blog.

    1. Wow, thanks!

      A couple of resources for your friend: one is the Shy K9s Yahoo group . Another is the great book “Scaredy Dog” by Ali Brown? Also Debbie Jacobs’ website and book. Both of those books would probably be really helpful to her.

      I wish her the best of luck. Working with a fearful dog can be a slow process, but hopefully there are some things she can do right away that will help a bit.

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