I cringe when I hear this, because I know how beneficial these are for dogs . . . provided people use them properly, and they often don't. I've discovered there are a number of things going on to send the dog down the it-doesn't-work path.
Unfortunately, people don't always think about what they're doing in what they perceive as a stressful situation, which can happen when a beloved pet is involved. People assume a lot. That's a really scary word when it comes to training . . . as well as thunder storm phobias.
Let's take a closer look at possible causes.
The care giver expects immediate, or at least, overnight results.
This is unrealistic. It does take time, because this situation didn't happen overnight. The pace of the change also depends on how heavily the dog’s fear has been reinforced by the environment and/or the human/s in his world.
When behaviors are fear-based, shaping them into more desirable activity takes TIME and EFFORT, as well as PATIENCE. Dogs are not objects, but living, breathing animals with emotions and feelings. Just as it takes people time to change a habit, so it is with dogs. There are no shortcuts, only consistent positive effort and reward. Basically, what you're doing is trying to erase the old and replace with calm, more desirable behaviors," using positive value.
Putting the tee shirt on at the wrong time (usually way off).
This often happens when people hear thunder, and they run to put the tee on their dog. Unfortunately, the dog will now equate a thunderstorm to the tee. Bad! After that, every time you pull out the thunder tee, the dog remembers the noise and fear, and runs and hides, because he thinks the tee means the BOOM, BOOM, BOOM is here!
Taking the tee off as soon as the storm is over is bad timing. Let the dog wear it for a while, play a game, toss the ball, work on a trick with high value food rewards . . . .
The dog is in the wrong place when the storm breaks.
An example would be that the dog gets put in its crate next to or by a window where it can easily see and hear thunder and lightning. Or perhaps tied on a porch out of the rain, but basically still exposed to the elements. (Putting a dog in its crate at the start of a storm with have the same effect as the tee being put on when the storm rolls in. Not giving a good message there.)
During the storm, the owner is busy cuddling and telling the dog, “It's okay, the thunder won’t hurt you, blah, blah, blah,” as they try to verbally convince the dog not to mind the noise, when Phydo doesn’t understand a word of English, French, Spanish . . . or any human language, in fact.
This, unfortunately, is a huge reinforcement of the dog’s anxiety.
WHAT TO DO
Be patient. Reshaping your dogs anxiety into calmness is a work in progress and takes TIME.
Put the tee on long before (which should be varied) the storm arrives. And yes, we sometimes can’t tell when one storm ends and another begins, or when another one will pop up. Go with it. Do your best. You might miss one here or there, but don’t fall back onto your old habits of trying to talk your dog into thinking it should be calm. Again, all it hears is blah, blah, blah, which reinforce its fear.
Take the tee off well after the storm has passed.
Evaluate where you put your dog to tolerate a storm. If you are using a crate, is it in a snug place? Are you using a KONG (see THE KONG post) as well. (Never use a Kong only for crating or thunderstorms.) Remember, to lower your dogs anxiety you also have to be consistent in what you do.
Stop talking to your dog when it’s stressed. Don’t pick it up or cuddle it. Let it settle on its own, perhaps even next to you (let it decide) while you read a book, bake cookies or clean the bathroom, just to use a few examples. You’re in the house, but ignoring Phydo.
Our dog, Freya, developed thunderstorm phobia living with our Border Collie, Brodie, who spent a great deal of time as a stray and exposed to the elements before we adopted him. Such a gentle soul, he was, I don't want to even think about the hell he went through out in the wild. I was able to help him, but only so far. Turned out, he had a brain tumor, poor guy.
But living with Brodie, Freya watched and learned (as young dogs and puppies often do) to be afraid and be fearful of loud noises like thunder and fireworks. But with the use of her thunder tee and a Kong, life for her has been much better. And like a lot of people, I’m not always home to do everything that's needed, when a storm rolls in.
Example: Brodie made huge headway when we happened to be out in a pasture with sheep (he loved sheep), when the boomers started. His reward wasn’t a Kong (which I didn’t happen to have with me), but a whole flock of sheep coming to him. Talk about a huge wow factor. He paid more attention to the sheep than the storm. You see, the sheep had more value than the storm, and it was the beginning of better storm times for him.
Think through what you’re doing around your dog when a storm is headed your way. Plan ahead as much as possible as to what to do.
These days there can be few excuses not to know what kind of weather is rolling in. There are any number of weather apps that can help with that.
NOTE: Your dog is going to know a storm is coming long before you hear any rumbles or the sky gets dark. No, he doesn’t have his own little weather app, but an ability to feel the barometric changes, which tells him to seek cover.