Tag Archives: fear

You CAN’T Reinforce Fear, But You CAN Help Take It Away.

 Is your dog afraid of thunder and lightning?

Essential oils can aide relaxation

Jambo wears a bandana sprayed with lavender oil

I have heard and seen people advising pet guardians to ignore their dogs when they are frightened.  They are warned that paying attention to the dog will make them worse and lead to the dog being more fearful in future. This is nonsensical.  As long as you yourself are calm and are not frantically engaging with the dog, but instead are calmly soothing and reassuring him, as well as putting strategies in place to help him relax, you are not going to increase the dog’s fears.

Imagine being in a minor car accident – nothing serious, but something that has shaken you a little.  Your friend puts an arm around you and reassuringly tells you that everything is going to be ok. She takes you inside and makes you a cup of tea.  Is this going to make you more fearful of cars?  No, absolutely not. It might, however, help lower your anxiety levels and make you feel better. You cannot reinforce an emotion!

We recently experienced heavy rain and thunder.   Jambo does not like thunder. You can see this just by looking at his body language in the photo of him eating his breakfast. His ears are back, and his tail is low.  He was, however, calm enough to eat and to then take a nap in his much loved ‘puppy’ bed, in his ‘secure place’ under the kitchen breakfast bar – This is where the bed was placed when he was a little puppy so that he could sleep beneath my feet as I work on my laptop.

I have worked hard to help Jambo overcome the fear he has of thunder, fireworks and other loud noises.  Some of the strategies I use are ongoing and some only come into play when the fear-provoking stimulus is present.

Here are some of the strategies that help Jambo cope, which could also help your dog or the pets in your care:

  • Close all exterior doors, windows, shutters, curtains and blinds.
  • Put on the lights – helping to mask lightning that may sneak through any gaps in the curtains. 
  • Play calming classical music.  Soft rock and reggae are also good options!  In fact, the effects of habituation can be reduced by varying the genre of music chosen. (Bowman, Dowell and Evans (2017). 
  • Put the extractor fan on – providing ‘white noise’ to help block out the sound of the thunder. 
  • Spray a bandana with calming lavender oil and tie around the dog’s neck.
  • Spray the dog’s mattress with Pet Remedy Pet Calming Spray or similar.
  • Plug in a Pet Remedy diffuser.  Adaptil is another good option.
  • Make sure the dog’s crate is available for further refuge, located in a favorite place away from exterior windows and doors.
  • Place a yummy stuffed Kong, sealed with peanut butter (or the dog’s favorite food) in the dog crate. 
  • If necessary, give a Calmex for Dogs tablet.  This is a supplement designed to reduce stress and anxiety in dogs.  Nutracalm or Zylkene are other options.  *Please consult your veterinarian before administering any supplements or medication.
  • Put a Thundershirt on the dog. Please note this should have been previously conditioned to engender a positive emotional response.
  • Apply body wraps – To learn more about body wraps, please refer to the The Use of Body Wraps and Pressure Garments for Dogs,  a three-part program covering the knowledge and skills required to effectively use sensory techniques such as body wraps.

A relaxed Jambo, free from fear, anxiety and stress

My arms are always open for a reassuring cuddle; my hands rubbed with Bitch Balm (a lavender based balm for dogs and horses) to pet, and my calming voice to soothe. 

All of the above management strategies are put into place once the storm has arrived and the fear is present, but I also implemented a behavioral change program to work on actually changing Jambo’s emotional response (his fear).  Before we began the behavior change program, Jambo would shake uncontrollably and run and hide at the first tremor of thunder.  He would not have eaten his breakfast, nor would he have been able to rest in his puppy bed…

Respondent Conditioning

I use classical conditioning (counterconditioning) and desensitization, to help elicit a positive emotional response to things Jambo is frightened of. The sound of thunder, fireworks, gunshots… have all been paired with his favorite peanut butter and/or roast chicken.

If you do not know what respondent conditioning is, please refer to The DogNostics Lexicon  – A Lexicon of practical terms for pet trainers and behaviour consultants  available from DogNostics Career Center.  Click here to purchase.

Putting all of the above measures in place, and giving Jambo my love and attention, helps ease his anxiety.

Please check out this post from Eileenanddogs.  It has some resources for getting your dog through events with loud noises and some general tips about dealing with fear.


*Please note: The information in this article, is not designed to replace a consultation with a veterinary behaviorist or accredited force-free behavior consultant.  If a dog is showing signs of fear, anxiety or stress, an appointment should be made with a certified behaviorist who will put an individualized behavioral change program in place. The dog’s veterinarian should also be consulted, who in conjunction with the behaviorist, may deem that anti-anxiety medication is necessary.




Reitzes, D. C., & Mutran, E. J. (2004). Bowman, A., Scottish SPCA, Dowell, F.J., & Evans N.P. The effect of different genres of music on the stress levels of kennelled dogs. Physiology & Behavior Volume 171, 15 March 2017, Pages 207-215. 

Questions To Ask About Your Young Dogs Behavior?

If you answer yes to any of these questions then it it time to call a Professional Dog Trainer or Certified Dog Behavior Counselor.

Does  your dog have “accidents” in the house?

Does your dog lunge at other dogs or people on walks?

Does your dog have problems getting  along with the other animals in the household?

Is it difficult for you to take a valued toy or food away from your dog?

Does the dog threaten you when you go near its food bowl?

Is your dog fearful of loud noises, Storms or the Vacuum?

Does your dog bark long periods of time at things passing by?

How long does your dog bark when guests pull up?

Does your dog bark and jump at guests when they arrive at your house?

Does your dog act strangely around children?

Is your dog fearful of going to vets?

Does your dog eat its poo?

Is it hard to brush your dog and clip it?s nails at home?

Is your dog uncomfortable in a crate?

Does your dog follow you everywhere in your house? Is she destructive when left



The DogSmith in Oxford MS is available for free dog training telephone consultations. Simply complete this short form and we will call you back.

DogSmith Dog Training & Dog Behavior Counseling!

The Only Nationally Recognized Certified Dog Training Instruction In Oxford MS & Surrounding Areas.
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Helping Dogs With Fear or Anxiety Behaviors – Flooding or Systematic Desensitization

Undoing bad experiences is know as counter conditioning, one type of counter conditioning is called the systematic desensitization approach. A systematic desensitization approach has three components. a)  relaxation training, reinforcing a calm response from the animal, b) setting up a hierarchy of fear eliciting stimuli, ranging from the least to the most problematic situation, and c) counter conditioning a preferred response from the animal at each level.

Systematic desensitization addresses problems by overcoming fears gradually and managing the dogs comfort and fear levels at each level of intensity before moving onto the next level.

The other system is called flooding, this is not a method used by DogSmiths. Read below and you will understand why


Flooding is the direct opposite of systematic desensitization. Flooding involves presenting all of the feared stimuli at once, the theory is that high levels of anxiety and fear all at once will “get the fear over and done with” Many dogs under flooding techniques loose control of their bladder and bowls, some resist flooding so intensely that they become aggressive and dangerous. Flooding teaches no positive associations and is not a method endorsed or approved by The DogSmith Training Center

Think about something you are scared or fearful of. Which method would you rather your counselor used to help you overcome this problematic fear. I know which one i would choose.


Chance, P. (2008) Learning and Behavior. Wadsworth Cengage Learning

Reid. P. J Excel-erated Learning (1996) James and Kenneth Publishers.

No Shock, No Choke, No Fear – No Dominance Theory Here!

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior – AVSAB’s position is that punishment1 (e.g. choke chains, pinch collars, and electronic collars) should not be used as a first-line or early-use treatment for behavior problems. This is due to the potential adverse effects which include but are not limited to: inhibition of learning, increased fear-related and aggressive behaviors, and injury to animals and people interacting with animals.

Dr Rachel Casey, Senior Lecturer in Companion Animal Behavior and Welfare at Bristol University, said: “The blanket assumption that every dog is motivated by some innate desire to control people and other dogs is frankly ridiculous. It hugely underestimates the complex communicative and learning abilities of dogs. It also leads to the use of coercive training techniques, which compromise welfare, and actually cause problem behaviors

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior -The AVSAB recommends that veterinarians not refer clients to trainers or behavior consultants who coach and advocate dominance hierarchy theory and the subsequent confrontational training that follow from it.

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