Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Not Scared, are you?

Most of us know a dog who is afraid of thunderstorms.  I once had a dog named Esther.  During storms she would hide under my bed shivering and panting.  There was no consoling her.  She would not come out from under the bed even to enjoy the distraction of say, a rawhide chew or a let's go for a ride type positive experience.  The dog was just plain scared out of her wits.

If the lightening and thunder show occurred during the night, I would lie on my bed feeling the vibration of Esther's trembling beneath me. This is the only time it ever crossed my mind that the bed frame might give way and collapse under my weight.  It was as though Esther's irrational fear was contagious. I was unable to sleep, not only due to the crashing storm outside and the sound of Esther panting and the unrelenting movement of the bed as Esther quaked but because my mind would not let go of the stupid idea that suddenly just as Esther lay vulnerable beneath the bed- it would crush her. This experience convinces me of the power of association.  Let's call it the Esther Effect.

We're told by experts that a dog who is afraid of thunderstorms can be reconditioned from a fearful reaction to a positve (or at least neutral) reaction. Buy yourself a recording of a thunderstorm and play it softly while feeding the dog treats or playing.  Little by little as the dog grows more nonchalant, turn up the volume of the phony storm.  The theory is that in time, the dog will not be afraid of thunderstorms because he's been having fun during the formerly scarey business of driving rains and flashes of light and boom boom thanks to a positive simulated storm experience. 

Sounds great, doesn't it?  You can redo an unpleasant reaction into new improved blase' courage!  Trouble is, you make some progress in your desensitizing then a real live storm comes along and you're back to square one.  Oh, well, slow and steady wins the race.  Don't give up!  Try try again!  It'll be OK!  You can do it!

In my household, roughly half the residents are afraid of storms and half are indifferent to them.  The scaredy cats run to The Handsome One for comfort.  It's done quite casually, we just sort of loiter in the general vicinity of THO and the other brave ones here at Bad Dog Ranch.  We hang around hoping that something will rub off.  You know, the Esther Effect.

Fear takes its toll.

Esther (on the left) as she appeared on sunny days.  Her companion's name was Heather.  It is not known whether or not Heather was afraid of thunderstorms. 


  1. Love the cute drawing of Esther?
    I think I need a C.D. to condition me to rejection from agents and publishers. Do they make such a C.D? I think they could have played it during lunch in I would be conditioned...I would be ready....

  2. Thanks! Yes that's Esther. Maybe I'll put a real picture of her up to show how much interpretation goes into my "art".

    The need for C.D. in so many applications cannot be understated...but the agents and publishers C.D. might prove particularly difficult!

  3. Esther and Heather are definitely cute ones.

  4. Awwww. I once read that it's not just the noise that scares them. (Although that's certainly scary enough!) Something about the changing weather and what it does to their inner ear?

  5. Yes, I heard something like that- they can sense the barometric pressure. Also, some say a dog can smell a storm coming.