Who do you go to when your world falls apart? When you're scared and need some comfort? What would you do if that person, when you came to them, greeted your fear with "Oh, get over it" or maybe "You're being silly, you don't need to be afraid"? And yet, for years, that's what has been drummed into our heads, emotional dog lovers that we are.
There's a big difference between reassurance and praise. "It's okay, that noisy thunderstorm will be over soon" is vastly different to your dog than "Oh! What a good dog!". So don't worry about reinforcing a fear in your dog by giving her some kind words of comfort and reinforcement when she's afraid. Don't worry that you'll make the fear worse by a little cuddling and some appropriate sympathy. You won't. You'll just let her know that you are the person to run to when something is amiss in her world. And you'll reinforce something good: that she can trust you no matter what. That you are a safe port in a storm. That not only do you make delicious meals and tasty treats appear as if by magic, entertain her with silly games and wear her out with a walk or some fun at the park, but that you are worthy of being the center of her world.
In an otherwise confident dog, a phobia, especially to something like a thunderstorm, can be hard to correct. There are many things to try, from dog appeasement pheromone (DAP) which comes in both a spray bottle or an atomizer, to homeopathic formulas such as rescue remedy, to exposing your dog to the feared object slowly, gradually increasing closeness to it, meanwhile giving lots of treats. For thunderstorms, you can play a tape, gradually increasing the volume. To be honest, thunderstorm phobia's are one of the most common and very hardest to correct. They encompass so much more than noise; air pressure changes, wind blows, rain falls hard and fast, windows get shut and sometimes lights flicker. They can be pretty overwhelming to a poor dog. Frequently, management is the best option. My own dog, who started fearing the dreaded storm after we moved from the country to the city, usually runs to his crate when it gets to be too much. I cover it with a blanket, and make sure he feels as safe and secure as he can until it blows over. I'll be writing more about correcting a phobia in the future. Maybe, in the meantime, I can find something that works for my sweet Tug. For now, when your dog looks at you with fear in her eyes, keep the gentle words flowing, make yourself the "island in a storm", and keep your dog's trust in you high.