August 2, 2014

hounddogIf your dog behaves anxiously or is fearful during fireworks, thunder, or any loud noise. OR shows fear of a person, place or thing? There are a few things you should be doing with your dog (or not doing) before, during and after whatever it is that’s causing your dog to feel that way.

1. It’s NOT recommend to pat or try to “comfort” your dog when they’re nervous or showing fear. In a “dogs world” there is no such thing as “comforting.” From humans comforting only causes their phobia or fear to become stronger. When you pat a dog, you’re mostly reinforcing what they’re thinking/feeling. When I taught police dogs we would pat the dogs whenever they looked at the bad guys, reinforcing what they’re thinking/feeling. (Giving treats (during training) reinforces their actions)

Although you don’t “comfort” them, you wouldn’t walk away or ignore them either.

2. (cats too) Use desensitization techniques, by exposing them to the negative noise, person or object in very small increments, i.e. the noise should be barely audible, and object should be far away. To help control noise, find pre-recorded noises eg thunder or fireworks, on the Internet or YouTube. For objects, position yourself far enough away, just outside of your dogs threshold, where there is little or no reaction to what triggers the fear. Practice as many short sessions over days or weeks, each session have the noise volume increase and the distance to the object decrease.

3. (cats too) Redirect (distract) their thoughts prior to the first sign of the problem, do something challenging and fun, like playing with a ball, practising obedience or any other game they like to play. If you act fun, your dog will think you’re playing a game. If you are having trouble getting them to focus on you, maybe the noise or thing is too loud/close?. The objective is to have your dog focus/concentrate on you and what you’re doing, and not on what they’re afraid of.  As your dog becomes less reactive (desensitized) to the noise, the noise/object can become louder/closer. (For cats, chase toys like a feather on the end of a string)

4. Use what I call, “redirection tease play” or just “tease play”, mimicking what another dog would do during play, and what I’ve seen many times done by dogs to other dogs to make them comfortable. This will naturally redirect and relax them, because they recognize what you’re doing as “play” and not “praise” or reinforcement of their feeling (emotions). Here is a link to my “redirection tease play” blog. Redirection tease play AND video. PLEASE WATCH

5. Obedience Training (probably the most important) It is an “indirect” but effective way to help cure phobias and other behavioral problems.  Your dog should understand at least 5 basic on and off leash around distractions. Just by teaching a dog to sit, stay, lay down and come on and off leash, I just happened to cure a dog of it’s noise phobia.  When taught correctly, obedience training is fun, helps build a dogs confidence, builds a better more trusting relationship, and actually makes them smarter to learn other new things faster.

6. It always helps to turn on the television, washer, dryer (place a few tennis balls with no heat), a fan, etc. Have these things going during the fireworks.

7. Sometimes “crating” your dog during the episode (or while you’re away to minimise escaping) can be helpful, but FIRST, your dog must be very well adjusted to their crate. Look for my video tutorial on ‘crate training’ on my YouTube channel.

8. If you know approx when the scary event is going to happen, make sure hours or days before the event bring/keep your cats indoors, so they don’t get caught outside only having to face the fear on their own.

Another great article on Phobias, fears and anxieties in dogs… DOUGLAS ISLAND VETERINARY SCHOOL

Let me know your feedback in the comment form below. THANKS



  1. Debbie Jacobs on July 18th, 2009 9:51 pm

    I don’t understand why you say there is no such thing as ‘comforting’ in a dog’s world. Why not? What you are saying buys into the myth that you can reinforce fear by rewarding it, but we know that’s not the case. Anything that lowers a dog’s stress level is going to improve their behavior. If that’s stroking a dog, or holding it, or giving it cheese, it’s only going to help the situation. In many cases petting and cooing to dogs has become a conditioned reinforcer so are rewarding and make a dog feel good.

    While recent studies have shown that owners petting their storm phobic dogs did not seem to improve their behavior, it did not make it worse (so they likely were not emotionally more fearful either). I do agree with your other suggestions for how to help scared dogs faced with a trigger, but I wish the idea that comforting reinforces fear would just go away.

  2. Robert on July 19th, 2009 10:03 pm

    Debbie, Thanks for your reply to an important topic. I’m not sure of any recent studies you speak of. I do know in my experience when working with phobias in dogs, what works and what doesn’t work. “Comforting” = reward. Show me in the dog world when a puppy is afraid of something and runs to its mother and the mother gives the puppy a big hug and while stroking it, talks to them, and tells them everything is going to be alright. Our voice and physical touch has the power to change our dogs emotional state. If a child scraps their knee and the mother comforts or babies them, they are more likely to cry, if they redirect or downplay the event the child may just move on. If ringing a bell and giving a reward, can produce a physical reaction of salivating and barking plus an emotional reaction of anticipation and excitement, It’s “conditioning”. If there is thunder and I “comfort” (reward) a dog’s fear reaction, it’s the same thing.
    It’s not, don’t reward your dog, It’s when to reward them

  3. Obedience Training For Dogs on December 17th, 2009 8:26 am

    Obedience Training For Dogs…

    However, the dog is capable of learning more than just basic obedience commands, just as the graduate from elementary school has the ability to learn more than just simple writing, reading, and basic arithmetic. The similarity between a child and a dog…

  4. Robert on December 19th, 2009 6:29 am

    Yep, a lot more than obedience. Thanks for reading

  5. Anne Blohm on March 23rd, 2015 8:31 am

    Okay, so what you are saying is this?
    If my child is terrified of the dark, instead of going into his room, turning on a night light and giving him a hug, I should ignore him, and let him scream through the night?
    That makes absolutely no sense to me, and I am a very sensible person.
    Furthermore, I really dislike when people use the mother and pup references to try to teach humans how to interact with dogs. Dogs are not stupid enough to think we are their mothers, so why even use the apples to oranges comparison? It has no relevance to your article.
    I am terrified of spiders. If you left me in a room full of spiders, and let me “deal with it”, my fear will certainly become much worse. On the flip side, if you give me a huge piece of chocolate cake, and remove me from the spiders, I will immediately feel much better.
    Fear is an emotion. Emotions cannot be reinforced, ask any phsycologist, or PHD expert in that field. Please rethink your view on this, since people tend to believe what they read, and go out and act on it. You could be doing harm to people’s pets without even knowing it.

  6. Robert on March 31st, 2015 9:36 am

    Anne, Why are you turning off the light when your child is terrified of the dark? Keep the light on, what kind of parent does that? BTW – “I” really dislike when people don’t “really” read my posts plus don’t have any credible experience with animal behaviour, but still rant on and on about nothing, try reading my post again! never wrote “to ignore”, I actually said, “you wouldn’t walk away and ignore them either” So what the heck are you going on about? read the part where I say to distract them, keep them engaged. and to take your analogy, if a child was afraid, in my opinion it would be best to read/play/talk/distract them to get their mind off of what’s frightening them. I think that’s much more beneficial than hugging, but that’s just a parenting choice. with that said, my blog isn’t about children, it’s about dogs and dog phycology which I have 33 years experience. Where did you study animal behaviour? or go door to door fixing peoples dogs behavioural issues?

  7. Tami Rae on December 31st, 2015 11:01 am

    Thank you Robert! My dogs are scared of any loud noise, even a whistle on the TV. Having worked with you several years ago, I know FRIST HAND how amazing you are with the dogs mind. A true whisperer. I think you were a dog in a past life! I have been redirecting them and they are much calmer but still a work on progress as I only get to see them on the weekends.
    I remember the first time you came in to our animal hospital offering your services over 20 years ago! We had a scared, out of control Dalmatian that was anything but obedient/social. You took this dog and returned a few weeks later with a confident, loving, well mannered, happy dog. You brought him in OFF LEASH and he attentively stayed right by your side, listened to every word and hand signal you gave him with eager anticipation. The real test for me was when you returned to see him a few weeks later, the dog was beyond thrilled to see you. As if you were his owner. We never looked for another trainer to recommend to our clients. I have several owners that I wish I could give your number to as they need someone to help with their dogs. The trainers they have been working with are not very good and I feel so bad for the dogs. It’s NEVER a good sign when the dog does not want to go with the “trainer” when he returns to visit the dog.
    I guess I just wanted to say, you are dearly missed here in the US. I refer clients to your website all the time. I hope it helps them. Miss you and thank you!

  8. Claire on January 1st, 2016 10:13 am

    Thank you for sharing the information.
    BTW, as a parent (of children and pets), I think you are on target with your analogies.

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