It’s stressful for you as well as your dog when he has a fear of thunder, fireworks or other loud and sudden noises. Dogs often exhibit their fear in destructive behavior, barking, and cowering. Two mistakes we often make, which only make the situation worse are to reprimand the dog for being afraid or comfort the dog when he is acting fearful. A reprimand in this situation will only result in making the dog more fearful. As you pet or cuddle your dog while saying things like, ‘Poor puppy, it’s OK, there’s nothing to be afraid of,’ the dog doesn’t comprehend your words, but he does interpret your soothing tone as a reward for his nervous behavior. The dog usually concludes it is doing the right thing by acting nervous because you are so approving of it.
In mild instances simply stopping the unintentional reward stops the fearful behavior. If his fear is minor, attempt to distract him by brushing up his tricks. He will naturally relax if he is enjoying a game of fetch. It is difficult to think about the thunder storm outside when the dog is concentrating on a quick series of Come, Sit, Shake, Down, Roll Over, etc. The idea is to distract the dog from the noise. Then praise the dog with lots of affection and attention, for obeying a simple command of sit or shake, instead of for acting fearful.
Do not wait until the night before the thunder storm or the third of July (fear of fireworks) to begin teaching your dog a few tricks. Be sure he knows them well beforehand. He will probably have trouble concentrating at first, so the better he knows the games and tricks, the easier it will be for him to perform them under pressure. This is definitely not a good time to attempt to learn new tricks.
Until the dog is over his fears, it is best to confine him to a place where he can’t hurt himself or completely destroy your property. A crate is ideal. Ideally the dog will be accustom to his crate so that he feels comfortable and secure there. Don’t wait until the storm has arrived to introduce your dog to his ‘safe haven.’ A blanket to darken and make the crate more “cave-like” will help. Have the TV or stereo softly playing for “white noise”.