Friday, September 28, 2012

Thunder Phobia

by Beau Dove

I have often wondered why the roll of thunder shoos the most fearless, ferocious, and daring canines into hiding. Surely, I have been guilty of jumping a time or two when that ominous storm comes knocking at my door but never have I cowered quite like a dog does during these noisy sessions. Dogs will scurry under beds and seek haven in closets as if they have some higher insight into the depths of a storms danger. Throughout this post, I will look to gain reasoning and possible solutions for this all too familiar scene.

The weather channel website ( states; “Storm phobias are one of the most common behavioral problems dog owners face, but their cause is not entirely clear. Behaviorists are not yet sure what part of the storm frightens dogs most, whether they're reacting to lightning flashes, the sound of thunder, wind blowing around the house, or the sound of rain on the roof. Some dogs even start to pace and whine half an hour or more before a storm. They may be reacting to a sudden drop in air pressure or the electrical charge of the air.” Dogs with storm phobias may also react badly to fireworks or other loud noises.

This seemingly scientific statement has very basic point: that our canine companions heightened senses do not couple well with loud flashes of energy. I can’t even begin to imagine a dog’s perception of the crackling boom, so loud and hot that it’ll make the fire alarm go off!
Well, okay, the cause of dogs’ loathing for thunderstorms was pretty obvious… but, now it is time to figure out some solutions.

USA Today lists these helpful steps to preparing your dog for storm braveness:
  • Handle it early on in your dog's life.
    Storm phobia is considered a progressive behavioral disease, signs like this should not be ignored. Each successive thunderstorm season is likely to bring out ever-worsening signs of fear. It's time to take action — NOW.
  • Don't heed advice to let her "sweat it out" or not to "baby" her.
    Your dog won't get it when you punish him/her for freaking out. Indeed, it'll likely make her anxiety worse. Providing a positive or distracting stimulus is more likely to calm her down.
  • Offer treats, cuddlings and other good stuff when storms happen.
    This method is best employed before the phobia sets in –– as pups. Associating loud booms with treats is never a bad thing, right?
  • Let him hide — in a crate.
    Hiding (as in a cave) is a natural psychological defense for dogs. Getting them used to a crate as pups has a tremendous influence on how comfortable they are when things scare them. Having a go-to place for relaxing or hiding away is an excellent approach, no matter what the fear. Another approach to try, whether he's a pup or not:
  • Get him away from the noise, and compete with it.
    Creating a comfy place (for the crate or elsewhere) in a room that's enclosed (like a closet or bathroom) may help a great deal. Adding in a loud radio or white noise machine can help, too. Desensitize him.
    Sometimes it's possible to allay the fears by using thunderstorm sound CDs when it's not raging outside. Play it at a low volume while plying him with positive stimuli (like treats and pettings). 
  • Ask your veterinarian about drugs.
    Sure, there's nothing so unsavory as the need for drugs to relieve dogs of their fears, but recognize that some fears will not be amenable to any of these other ministrations without drugs. If that's the case, talk to your vet about it –– please. There are plenty of new approaches to drugs that don't result in a zonked-out dog, so please ask!
  • Consider seeing a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.
    If nothing else works, your dog should not have to suffer. Seek out the advice of your veterinarian, and, if you've gone as far as you can with him/her, consider someone with unique training in these areas –– perhaps a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.

Be sure not to reward your dog's fear. Treats and cuddles while the dog is displaying fearful behavior will only reinforce the idea that acting anxious will get them rewarded.

Another option is the Thundershirt, a garment that wraps tightly around the dog's torso and reportedly helps to calm them (similar to swaddling for babies). Some of HSEC's foster and adoptive families have reported good results with this product.

I would highly recommend trying a few of the best sounding techniques listed above when the next storm rolls into town. If nothing else, your dog will appreciate your efforts in helping him/ her combat their life-long foe.

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