Phobias - Inborn, Acquired or Learned?
How do dogs become afraid of thunder? Are they
born with the fear or is it an acquired response? I can say with
certainty that dogs can acquire a fear of thunder, and a late
onset fear of thunder is very common. Many dogs are not afraid
of thunder or fireworks for the first few years of their lives
and many people report that their dog was not in the slightest
bit afraid of thunder until it was four or five years old.
Others say that the fear manifested in their dog's senior years.
of thunder can also be 'learned' from one dog to another as
I know from my own experience. I owned a dog named Jack who was afraid of
thunder even when he was a little puppy. Jack was mainly an 'outside'
dog (we live in a very temperate climate) with a huge undercover patio, a
large garage, a comfy kennel and an acre of land to call his own, but he
did come inside on special occasions. He was
terrified of thunder and fireworks and would become a shivering, drooling
wreck whenever a storm was in the air. He would race from his kennel to
under a parked car to wedging himself in the corner of the garage. In fact
he just ran and hid but where ever he hid it wasn't good enough and two
minutes later he would change positions. If I was outside he would
cower and tremble at my feet salivating over my shoes.
Of course I hated seeing him work himself up in
this manner and so I would take him inside the house and whisper
reassuring words in his ear. Even inside the house he was
obviously distressed such was his fear. He wanted to follow me
around but every new clap of thunder sent him scurrying to a
new hidy hole be it under my desk or wedged in beside the
toilet bowl. In fact over the years the toilet became his
preferred safe haven from the storm's fury. It's interesting
to note that during cyclones or hurricanes the experts tell us
to go to the smallest room in the house. Perhaps dogs know
Several years passed and I acquired another
dog. A big hulk of a German Sheppard cross Rottie name Judy.
Now Judy was a tough girl and thunder didn't make her bat an
eyelid. 'What's all the fuss about' she seemed to say. She was
very astute though and quickly observed what happened when
storms were brewing and Jack became a quivering wreck. She saw
him being ushered into the house (for dogs, a place reserved
for special occasions) with sweet nothings being whispered
into his ear. She quickly learned to associate thunder and
Jack coming in the house.
What was a dog with any sense going to do about
that? Feign a fear of thunder of course, a sure-fire way of
gaining entry into the luxury of 'indoors'. She put on quite a
good act with whimpering, whining and scratching at the back
door. We weren't fooled of course but saw no harm in letting
her in also. Once she was in she settled herself down on the
carpet. While savoring the luxury of being inside she suddenly
lost all fear of the thunder. Meanwhile, Jack was left to to
ride out the storm in abject misery lodged up against the cold
hard toilet bowl.
I mentioned previously that Judy was astute and
she actually took things one step further when she made a
further association. She associated thunder with rain and then
put on the scaredy cat act whenever it rained. Jack looked at
her with bewilderment. Her performance, sadly, was in vain
because we refused to let her inside for feigning fear of rain
but we greatly admired her ingenuity.