Tic Tac’s Thunderdome – A Shelter From Her Fear

Providing a safe area for your dog to “hide out” from scary noises can be an important part of behavior modification plans for noise phobia. Here I share a sound deadening box we built for my dog Tic Tac.



Even to someone who is not afraid of thunderstorms, I still sometimes startle when the thunder seems a bit too close for comfort.  So I cannot imagine what it must be like for a dog that has either been under socialized to loud noises, has a genetic predisposition to fear, or otherwise has developed an irrational fear of thunderstorms, fireworks, gun shots, cars backfiring, etc. Just to clarify, to us it seems irrational, but to the dog it is an absolute REAL fear.  When the BAM-BOOM-CRACKING starts or even when the atmosphere changes indicating “there’s a storm a brewing” (a reference to my favorite Vegas slot machine), the dog’s body all of the sudden takes on a mind of its own (well, not really).  The amygdala (a part of the brain) says… Threat Doggy Threat.  Breathing rate increases helping to get more oxygen into the blood and to the muscles.  The muscles tense to prepare to help him get out of there. The adrenal glands fire off hormones that help the body cope with stress, increase the heart rate, and signal the liver to release stored energy.  When you get right down to it… if the dog was stuck outside in a thunderstorm with no one to take care of him… this is what he needs to happen.  Honestly, the body is a pretty awesome machine and this reaction is not abnormal but rather serves a very important purpose.  We just need to tell the dog, “HEY, we got you!”   Unfortunately, it’s not that simple… but, SCIENCE to the RESCUE.

Pavlov gave us a powerful tool called Classical Conditioning.  Technically, classical conditioning has been around since the dawn of time, but Pavlov in his immense wisdom brought to light this very valuable tool.  Since the dog has a “fear” of thunderstorms (or other noises), he has a negative association with them.    So, we have to change this association… enter counter conditioning.  Don’t get confused its exactly the same basic concept as Pavlov’s ring a bell give the dog some food, but we are CHANGING the bad association the dog has with the thunderstorms.  This is where having a good trainer or behavior counselor is IMPERATIVE.  Knowing how to change a negative association involves a lot more than just pairing thunderstorms with food or play because the dog most likely will be in a state he can’t take food or play with a toy.


The purpose of this post is to actually share with you a “safe haven,” sometimes called a “bolt hole.”  A bolt hole as defined by Merriam-Webster is a place where a person or animal can escape or hide. Even though that’s the purpose, I feel it’s important to at least give you a GLIMPSE at how we incorporated the bolt hole in a plan for Tic Tac.

  • Complete Veterinary Check Up… (NOTE: This should always be a first step. Let your veterinarian know your dog is afraid of loud noises.  They may have suggestions, be able to help, or direct you to a fear-free trainer in your area.)
  • Desensitization and Counter Conditioning to sounds, flashes of lights, static (I used wool blankets from the dryer), rain (I used hose water against the windows), loud winds, falling tree branches, branches rubbing the roof (in case we forget to trim trees)
  • Desensitization and Counter conditioning to fireworks.
  • Bolt hole contained in my converted office closet. Why?
    • I can work while she is free to go in/out of the bolt hole.
    • Intermittent sessions of play/very high value treats when the storm is at a level that is comparative to her current threshold (the level of we have achieved thus far thru desensitization).
    • Encouraging her to use the bolt hole by having very high value treats inside (including frozen kongs, empty peanut butter jars to lick, etc.) especially during times when the storm was above threshold.
  • Proper introduction to the Bolt Hole which included alternating play with going in for bone/kong/etc. when play ended. This would be eventually incorporated into our “THE STORM IS HERE” strategy.
  • Measurement of behavior using an evaluation form I modified from: Pike, A., Horowitz, D., & Lobrpise, H. (2015).  An open-label prospective study of the use of L-theanine (Anxitane) in storm-sensitive client-owned dogs.  Journal of veterinary behavior, 10 (4), p. 324-331.

Tic Tac’s Bolt Hole, AKA “Thunder Dome.”

I am not married to the name “Thunder Dome” if you want to give me some other thoughts.

First off, I wanted it to be a place where she could go and feel safe so my requirements were:

  • She would be free to come and go
  • Reduce noise by at least 75%
  • Install white noise or mp3 to cover as much of the remaining 25% of noise that would enter
  • Reduced light
  • Comfortable
  • Ability to express stress behaviors
    • So I could measure progress
    • It helps to have an outlet when you are stressed
  • Placed in an area that would allow me to get other things done during storms.

Photos of the Building Process and The Final Version (and a few of my princess using it):

The most important material is this:
Sound Proofing Material – Acoustic Tiles, Door Seal Kit (don’t get fancy with the tiles as they will be sealed in the walls.

One thing you will notice is in a few pictures we have black carpeting and in others we have white vinyl.  One of Tic Tac’s stress busting behaviors is to dig.  (And as a terrier, she is pretty darn good at it!) I wanted her to be able to do that if she felt inclined in the early stages without getting to the wood and risking injury.  (In the past, she has injured my drywall!) So we installed the white vinyl over the top of the carpeting.  The carpeting helped to further reduce sound.  In the first few weeks, she would dig at the floor, but as we progressed with the rest of the protocol this behavior lessened considerably.  She will still occasionally do this behavior, but now it’s much less intense and only during the most intense storms.

One major change we have made to some of the more recent builds is the installation of seals around the connections of the “walls.” Additionally, we have used drywall and quiet rock drywall to reduce sound further and make it more aesthetically pleasing.  There are really a lot of options if you have the time and desire to build a sound reducing bolt hole for your pup.  I wish I could say the cost is low, but if you want a quality sound deadening box you can expect to spend between $250-$350.

My original plan was to provide complete build instructions and material list, but I want to ensure everyone fully understands how important it is to use this as a part of an overall behavior modification plan.  Thus, if you are interested in building a sound deadening box and would like more guidance in regards to materials, plans, etc. please feel free to contact us and myself or my husband (the box builder) will correspond with you.

There are so many things I want to be able to include, but there will be more to come in another post. It’s not like the storms are going to cease happening. I do want to leave one parting thought… as much as I wish there was a QUICK FIX for fear related behaviors, there isn’t.  Many of the products available that are marketed to help are very good and can help some, or in mild cases of fear a great deal.  But regardless of whether the fear is to thunderstorms, fireworks, strangers, or being home alone… you can’t confine it, you can’t punish it, and your dog can’t forget about it. What you can do with time, commitment, and the support of good force free trainer, is change how your dog feels about what scares them and this will lead to a change in behavior.

Now speaking of storms… we’re having one right now!  I could not have planned this any better (or WORSE) if I had tried.

Rotate Toys for Enrichment

At our home we have a trash bag full of old toys.  They were once new and fun and worth their weight in gold. Each could easily buy me 30 minutes of alone time when I wanted to get some work done.  The dogs not wanting yet to risk that I might put it away, they would go off and squeak intently in another room.  As time passed these beautiful, fun, squeaky, silly looking stuffed toys became boring.  Dogs no longer grabbing them and running around squeaking with glee.  My hard earned money no longer valuable in the form of a toy.  So around the house I went collecting each in a great big trash bag with all the furry brows wrinkling up and the soft eyes glaring as if to say, “DON’T YOU DARE THROW THOSE AWAY.”

I did not intend to throw them away, but needed these spoiled little furry family members to learn… these toys are still FUN! So…

I got out a much smaller toy box and filled it with a few brand new toys…


But soon they got old and lay around just like the others did in the far off corners and hidden areas of the home…


And so I sneakily, picked up all the forgotten toys and even the one left in the toy box from last night’s pick up…


Went back to the trash bag full of toys…


Grabbed several old toys and placed them in the toy box… and then…

This went on for several minutes until one decided it was time to show me their “new” toy…

The moral of the story is this…


To enrich your dog’s life, you don’t need to buy new toys all the time.  Just change them out often.  I personally like to rotate the toys about every three or four days.  We have a lot of toys.  I put a new one in the bunch every couple of weeks to a month.  Just like us, dogs need variety.  Could you imagine watching the same episode of a show over and over again?



Yippie Goes to the Bar

Yes, you read that right, Yippie goes to the bar.  The bar in our kitchen.  He stands there until we guess what he wants.  Literally, just stands there and looks at me as I guess what is on his mind.  I should perhaps teach him the PECS system that is used for non verbal children, and perhaps when we are done with the Karen Pryor Academy behavior chain I will.

When he goes to the bar, it is typically one of three things (lucky for him, because I would lose patience after the third):

  1. Water
  2. To go out.
  3. He wants a treat.

First, I point at the water bowl and ask if he wants water… at least 60% of the time this is it.

Second, I walk around the counter and towards the back door where the doggie door is located.  If he goes out, that was it.  (20% of the time)

Finally, we walk back to the counter and I put my hand on something… If he goes nuts… he was just working me for a treat.  So we do a little mini-training session and call it for the next few hours while he naps in his stroller.  Yes, I said it… he has a stroller.  He loves that thing, but that is a story for another time.

Some tell me it is early stages of CCD, but I’m happy to report that there is nothing else in his life that suggests this to be the case.  After all, you did read he is participating in the Karen Pryor Academy, right?  For those that don’t know what that is you can find out more information here.  Further, Yippie has always been a bit of a goof.  Someday I’ll have to write up a fun post about the day Yippie decided to play hide and seek without telling us.  (Boy I really do digress sometimes.)

My point is this, as our dogs age, we let them get away with certain things.  For me, it is allowing him to treat me like a human PEZ dispenser.  If he hadn’t spent the last 14 years of his life as a perfect angel, I might not be so inclined to let him treat me this way.  We often called him Stealth Dog, because you could forget he was there he was so quiet all the time.  We took him to outdoor restaurants and many times, the waiter would come up the third time, and say oh wow, “I didn’t even know he was here.”

So, when Yippie goes to the bar, I stop and pay attention.  I don’t know if its a request to pay attention to him, or if he truly is forgetting why he walked there in the first place.  I don’t really care.  He counts on this from me.  If I’m not there in a flash, he will prance in place… it’s funny… tippity, tippity, tip of toenails on the floor.  For in that moment, it’s our time at the bar!

Separation Anxiety – Dog’s Point of View

It is often hard to explain just what happens when a dog suffers from home alone issues. I admit I can be dog crazy and put words into my dog’s mouths, so this video is true to my nature and as such, is anthropomorphic. I hope however, you can look past that and if you have a dog that suffers from home alone issues can gain a different perspective of why they do the things they do and seek comfort in knowing there are people that can help.

If you suspect your dog suffers when left home alone, please fill out our prospective client questionnaire and we will be in touch.


“Dog Friendly, Scientifically Proven” Techniques

“Dog Friendly, Scientifically Proven” Training

My Jack Russell has had a hip issue since she was very young. When her hips bother her, it causes her to lash out like the dog from the “Mask” at those she loves the most. We manage the pain with medication, but because of her young age we give her the bare minimum to keep the pain at bay, but not overtax the system and build up immunity. I use holistic alternatives to help as well. I wish I could say in time it will get better, but I can’t predict that.

My job is to love her and take care of her the best I know how. She struggles with some behavior problems because when this issue first started we didn’t know that was the problem. Her aggression was treated behaviorally when in reality it was a medical condition. To make matters worse, at the time I didn’t know there were alternatives to traditional based training which is based on letting the dog know what she is doing wrong in a rather threatening (and to be honest, sometimes painful) way.

So, I set out to find a better way…

I read every book I could get my hands on, researched every trainer who wrote a book I liked, conducted “tests” with a variety of training tactics reading my dog’s body language that I also learned about.  I went to back to school to work towards a master’s degree in applied animal behavior and counseling.  I took seminars.  I attended workshops.  I took courses from professional dog trainers who were using the much friendlier, scientific based training I was learning about in my master’s courses.  I became a Pat Miller Certified Trainer and am currently enrolled in the Karen Pryor Academy.  I attended several conferences including the Clicker Expo, the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, and the Pet Professional Guild Summit.  And that’s when I decided to use…

Dog Friendly, Scientifically Proven Training Methods

What the heck does that mean? “Dog Friendly” means that when you look at your learning dog, his body language and facial expressions indicate he’s “happy”. “Scientifically Proven” means the training techniques I use have been proven to WORK by researchers (I’ll spare you the long boring peer reviewed articles and statistics that only statisticians can understand). In training, your dog will experience all kinds of new things he may not have experienced before. I use management techniques, such as baby gates, to prevent unwanted behavior while your dog learns what is appropriate behavior. I use new sounds, words, yummy treats, toys, or life rewards (such as going outside) to say to the dog “yes” that is exactly what I wanted you to do. And yes, there will be times when we might use ways (such as closing a door) to indicate to the dog, “you just lost an opportunity for a yummy treat or toy or to go outside, but if you do this you can still have it your way.” And I take the time to change his mind about the aliens that live in our home, i.e., the washing machine, the vacuum cleaner, etc.

What do you as the “pet parent” have to do?

Don’t worry about your training, you won’t be learning how to be alpha, we can leave that term to the fraternities and sororities. Your dog won’t be forced to roll over, but he might learn “rollover” as a fun party trick. You won’t have to hit, choke, or yell at your dog, but you might need to finger shoot him if you want him to “play dead”. You won’t have to walk him 100 miles a day to burn off his energy, but you will need to implement a creative, time saving, energy draining, designed for your life plan (unless you can figure out a way to harvest and sell his energy for profit… in which case you can quit your day job thus having the time to walk him 100 miles!)

There’s more to me and my training than just this little short article about how I came to be a dog trainer and behavior counselor, but we will save that for another time.  AND as for my Jack Russell… she thanks you for reading this. The more people that know of my dark past, the more in place to help in her scheme to take over the world.  (She has no idea, I have more TRICKS up my sleeve to prevent the takeover.)

NOTE:  If you suspect there is an underlying medical issue causing your pet to misbehave, see a veterinarian as soon as possible.