Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Training the Dog for Rain

I didn't think about the weather until the weather came and said hello.   I had more important things on my mind. 

I had left the house an hour before, telling Rack "Come on, boy!  Go in the Crate!".  After guiding
him along he went semi-willingly.

The weather outdoors at this point was sunny, so I didn't give it much of a thought.  I waited for two minutes by the door, quietly, to see if Rack was going to start whining.   This time, the separation anxiety didn't rear its ugly head.  Other times, the two minute departure wait would have me giving a firm command "NO!" and waiting for him to settle in.   It usually worked, the last time he whined, the command resulted in him lying down for a nap.

I got into the Jeep and drove up to Palm Beach County for the interview.  That interview went quite well.  I got a great view of the rain, and as we broke up, I sat in the lobby checking the phone for radar.  A 50 mile stripe of red along the South Florida coast from West Palm Beach to roughly Aventura meant my house was getting pommeled.   It also meant I'd have to run to the car in a suit.

Driving home I was wondering how my puppy would fare.  There were some amazing lightning strikes on the hour drive back that laughed at the weak sounds coming from my car stereo.

Getting home... all was quiet.  It was still raining, but slowing down.   I didn't hear a sound from the house.  Either Rack went to sleep or had cried himself out.

This was very different from my old dog, Lettie.  She never became completely calm in the rain.  I did manage to blunt the panic by turning storm time into play time.  Grab the tennis ball and start to bounce it in front of her.  The prey/play drive kicked in until the nearby lightning strike would startle both of us.  Bouncing the ball did eventually work, similar to an allergy shot.   It was not a magic bullet, but it did work.  For the rest of her life, she expected play whenever it started to rain.

Rack didn't care about the rest of the storm.  I was home for the afternoon, and the rain continued to fill the pool with brilliant light shows in the background.

I thought I got off Scot Free until the late walk.   The rain continued from morning to night, and we finally hit a lull around 10pm that was just enough to get him out to do his business.

However, that same dog that didn't care inside about the weather, seemed to be as scared as we were when there was a nearby lightning strike.  In a land that is so flat that the nearest natural highpoint is about 200 miles North, you can see lightning 30 miles away.

That made for an impressive show.

We were two houses down when the flash hit.  Rack looked up, and flattened against the ground by the time the sound hit us.   I knew that I wouldn't have to give him another bath because he flattened right into a 2 inch deep pond on the road.

Not so bullet proof, Mr Dog?

The trick with these sort of fear issues is appropriate amounts of initiation.  A fearful dog will be fearful no matter what, but the fear will fade when the confidence levels get higher.  If a dog can hear, they will be at least aware of the thunder.  If they can't hear, they will feel the percussion in their chests.  It's up to us how we choose to handle that.  Yelling at a fearful dog won't work, it will only build on that fear and make them think you're yelling at the storm just like they would.

Positive reinforcement only in training.  If you raise your hand, you lost your battle.

The rain will come unless you live in the desert, and even then you will get some rain ... eventually.

Acting like it's a big deal, dressing the dog in clothes for the purpose, freaking out over whether you're going to have a panicky dog before you even reach for the front door knob is pointless.  The phrase "They can smell fear" is scientifically correct - you put out stress hormones.  The dog can smell the cortisol on your skin and will start getting afraid.

If you are afraid of the weather, you should cool your heels indoors until YOU can manage yourself.  The dog can be worked with.  It's more your problem than the dog's anyway.

My own favorite saying is "It's a marathon, not a sprint".  You are in this for the long haul, for the lifetime of the dog.  Take charge and help your dog through their fears, don't add to the problem.

Also, a supply of nice bouncy balls never hurt anyone either!

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