Preparing For and Dealing with Thunderstorms
This is the time of year for afternoon thunderstorms. Many dog’s suffer from thunderstorm phobia, and sometimes it seems the older the dog gets the more severe the phobia becomes.
Because we are not dogs, we can only hypothesize how dogs feel when it storms, but for some dogs storms truly cause a panic attack. This can actually be life threatening in some cases; because some dogs run away, break through windows and some have even been reported to jump from secondstory windows causing mutilation and even death.
Some experts hypothesize that the electrical current in the air actually has a shocking affect for some dogs. This theory may explain why some dogs choose to lay in the bathroom, bathtub or behind the toilet because the porcelain does not conduct the shock. Some people report success from rubbing their dogs down with dryer sheets prior to a storm. This may help to lessen or take away the electrical stimulation.
Some say that the drop in barometric pressure and the boom of the thunder and the crack of the lightning may actually cause pain because dogs hearing is so much keener than ours.
No matter what the cause, it is essential to help our dogs to deal with this phobia or to help them never develop it.
Alleviate the Problem:
- Got a puppy or a new dog? When the storm begins, the barometric pressure drops and the booming starts; begin playing with your pup. If thunderstorms equal fun and games; your dog will look forward to the event rather than fearfully awaiting its arrival. I also take this time to distribute great treats and chewies that may take a long period of time to chew; rawhides, bully sticks, and all kinds of edible bones and toys can be used to keep your dog’s mine off the impending storm. I also crank up the radio and blast out some tunes in order to keep the sound from being overwhelming. Any event that can be perceived as scary, should be turned toward fun and exciting.
- On the evening of the fourth of July I often play outside games and do scent work around the neighborhood so that the sounds are not overpowering they become the background to the fun that they are experiencing.
Dealing with the Problem Once it arises:
Even though I spent hours and years desensitizing my dogs to storms after one of my dog’s ear drums rupture he has experienced some noise phobia since and my oldest has watched him in his fervor and developed some of the same problems; so I know it can happen to anyone.
- This is the first thing to try and although it takes time it is often very effective. Start with whatever stimulus first elicits signs of nervousness. Pair the drop in pressure or the darkening of skies with treats, games and praise. Your goal is for your dog to emotionally respond to thunder as a predictor of something good. You need to make the first signs of the storm induce happiness and relaxation. If you have been working hard on getting eye contact and focus, you can also use this to help calm your dog before and during a storm. Give him a command that he can be successful at achieving which will give him something else to think about. Run through his tricks or commands, take him out before the storm and play ball and make this time fun for him.
Give Him a Safe Haven
- Designate an enclosed area for him to get away from the storm; a closet, in the bathroom, in his crate or wherever he might feel comfortable and add your tricks for desensitization here while the storms rage. Crank some tunes and try to preoccupy him from thinking about the storm and hopefully the next time the storm begins he will rush to his safe haven to find comfort.
- Acupressure and Acupuncture has even been reported to help and be an effective tool for dogs with thunderstorm phobias. Contact your local veterinarian to find a vet that provides Acupuncture.
- There are CDs you can use that mimic the sounds of thunderstorms and you can use them to help with your program of desensitization. Start by playing the CD on low and then slowly increase the sound as your dog is more successful.
- Leeds and Wagner have developed music specifically designed to calm dogs. Their work is based on solid biological principles. You can read more about it, and get a CD or download the music by googling Through a Dog’s Ear.
- Homeopathic remedies, pheromone plug ins, flower essences and melatonin have been used and success has been shown. A book called “The Big Bang” by Claudeen McAuliffe offers even more suggestions and tips on helping your dog with his phobia.
- Last but not least is prescription medications; if all else fails or you are not seeing victory quickly enough, talk to your veterinarian. Thunderstorm phobia is so severe in some dogs that drugs have been specially designed to help them deal with storms. Sometimes this is the best option for people who have to work during critical storm hours. Often medications are only successful with desensitization and behavior modification.
Thunderstorm phobia can be horrifying for your pet, but with some time, effort and dedication you can give your dog the tools needed to deal with his fears!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.