Hey Mofo Friends!
“Help! My dog will not poop outside in the rain!”
“My dog is scared to death of thunderstorms! What can I do?”
I cannot begin to tell you how many times clients have come to me with these issues. If you find yourself dealing with these concerns, you need to first ask yourself a question.
Do I have a truly terrified dog here or do I have a pampered princess who does not like to get their feet wet?
* If you said pampered princess: *
- Put your dog on a leash and take them outside while it's raining. Go for a walk together!
Yep, you’ll get wet, too. Unlike your mofo, however, you’ve probably experienced rain before, are aware that the precipitation can actually be fun, and understand that the state of being (even very thoroughly) soaked tends to be a temporary one. (Unless you happen to be a wicked witch, and in that case just leave poor Toto alone and focus on training your horde flying monkeys, m’kay?)
Start on a day with a light drizzle. Get your leash, bring some wonderful dog treats, and head outside. Be prepared for some resistance here. Instead of forcing your dog along, I suggest keeping some tension in the leash and encouraging them to walk with you.
If your dog isn’t paying attention to you, just stop walking. Use “smoochie” noises. Bait them with food. You have to be more patient than your dog is stubborn.
Once they start taking a few steps, show your enthusiasm! Seeing the animation in your posture and tone, and hearing you say “YEAH!” and “GOOD DOG!” is a great way to help keep them motivated. Celebrate each small achievement and don’t get frustrated if your dog is slow to learn.
Make these exercises short, fun, and sweet (especially if you are dealing with an older dog). Always end on a positive note.
* If you said terrified dog: *
- Handling a dog who is downright panic-stricken by thunder and lightning is more difficult, but patience and adaptability here can work wonders. Take the following 2 examples:
JACK – To see my 10-year-old mofo Jack, a brilliant swimmer who loves the water, you’d never guess that he suffered from fear of rain or of storms. Jack actually started out as a “pampered princess” type and did NOT like to go outside to potty in the rain. I used the above exercise as often as I could, and by the time Jack was 2 years old he no longer even needed to be put on a leash to go out in the rain.
Then, when Jack was 8 (about 2 years ago) we had a REALLY bad storm. A large tree branch fell on the house. It was crazy loud – even I was startled – but it scared Jack so much that he literally shit himself. He’s been terrified by the sound of thunder ever since.
I should note that there is a wonderful medicine that your vet can prescribe to help, but in order for it to work you have to get it into your dog’s system an HOUR before the storm. If you can predict storms consistently and ahead of time you need to be making a fortune with that skill. Sadly, that is not among my superpowers. So I did a TON of work trying to help Jack overcome his fears. And in the end I discovered that putting him in his crate worked best for him. In fact, storms are only time Jack actually likes his crate.
You might have heard about weighted blankets that some people use to calm and comfort them during distress or anxiety – well, the mofo equivalent of that is a tight shirt. Jack wears a lot of t-shirts anyway, and now I make sure I always have something on hand that fits tightly in case he needs it. If a tight shirt helps your dog you may want to invest in a thunder shirt. These are a brilliant, easy fix if they work for your dog. They last forever and wash up great.
While tight shirts and crate-use were the formula Jack needed, my mofo Phritz was a very different story.
PHRITZ– We found Phritz in the woods after a few days of epic storms. He was very young (about 6 weeks old), very sick, and had been alone outside during the storms. The first time Phritz heard thunder he got scared and began freaking out. Luckily, the thunder was far away and there was only some light rain – a perfect opportunity to get him outside. I grabbed some chicken and walked him around my front yard.
My neighbors thought I was crazy to be out in the rain, but I didn’t want the next 18 years of Phritz’s life to be tormented by storms. So every time Phritz took a few steps without hesitation, he was rewarded with some chicken. This food-reward method helped him progress quickly. It wasn’t long before we were running around the yard in the rain having a salsa dance party.
Several rain sessions later, I added some sit commands. Please note that this training was not a one-shot deal. We went out in a number of storms before he was completely comfortable. And it worked. Even now, Phritz gets ready to have a storm party whenever it rains.
There are plenty of supplements on the market to try. Ask your vet for recommendations. If one does not work try something else. Don’t give up.
Take note of your body language. Do you hate the rain? Storms? Thunder? Even if you don’t mind bad weather but you are anxious because you know your dog is going to freak out, your dog will still pick up on your energy.
Saying “It’s okay” in a soothing voice might seem like the obvious thing to do, but all that does is praise the fear. Your dog does not speak English. If you think your dog is afraid the best thing you can do is stop talking. Sit down, take some deep breaths and relax. Listen to your favorite music. Watch your favorite show. Hell, drink a really good bourbon. Show your dog there is nothing to be afraid of rather than tell them.
Exercise is crucial. You’ve likely heard the saying, “Train the body and the mind will follow.” Well, it’s true for dogs too, so go spend some time with your best friend, rain or shine. Take them swimming. Play tug and fetch. Don’t forget the all-important walk. Both of you will feel better.
Everything is awesome. Now go walk your mofo 🙂
There are no “bad” dogs, just mofos with problems. Problems generally have solutions, and I’ve encountered them all. For more practical and professional help on mofo issues from A to Z check out my Basic Training course.