There’s a flash of lightning lighting up the clouds…then the thunder sounds and the rain falls…the earth quakes again…..thunder and lightning can be terrifying to dogs. Dogs sense an imminent storm before humans see or hear anything, and many dogs will simply go to a place they have established as a safe haven, but some dogs will become hysterical with fear and anxiety. It is important to understand that if you have a dog with severe thunder phobia, there is no single quick fix effective for all dogs.
Try to create a safe place for your dog to go when she hears noises that frighten her…this must be a safe location from her perspective, not yours. Notice where she tries to go when she is frightened, and if at all possible, give her access to that place. NEVER keep her tied up outdoor, and NEVER punish a dog who has destroyed something in a panic.
Some of the most self-confident dogs may begin to pant and pace around the house, hiding or behaving erratically when the lightning flashes and the thunder rolls. Do not coddle or scold your dog for his fears. Try distracting him by engaging him in play or some activity that will refocus his attention.
- Don’t do anything that will reinforce the idea that there is something to fear…Remain cool and indifferent to bad weather, talking in a calm, reassuring voice, acting as though you enjoy the storm.
- Don’t pull a fearful dog from his hiding place. If he wants to retreat to a corner or closet, it is because he feels it is a safe haven….let him venture out on his own, and then try to refocus his attention. If you massage his ears, or give him a body massage, he may relax (or maybe not!)
- A fan, radio, or television turned on may help block out storm sounds. Soft classical music often helps, and although there are many CD’s that claim to “calm dogs down”, I consider most of them “snake oil.” One CD that we use at the shelter has proven to be successful with many dogs. If you have a dog that is fearful, or exhibits other inappropriate behavior, go to www.caninelullabies.com for information on Canine Lullabies, a unique program that incorporates the background of an actual human heartbeat.
- Holistic veterinarians often suggest Bach flower remedies. Odorless and tasteless, they come in liquid form, and can be given regularly for as long as needed. If you know a storm is coming, you can place a few drops in the dog’s water bowl, and even if the storm comes six hours later, as he drinks all day, it gets into his system. For information, go to www.bachflower.com or call 800-214-2860.
- Peppermint oil can be purchased at health food stores, and while no one knows why it works, sometimes putting a drop or two of the oil on the bottom of each foot, right on the pad has a calming effect.
- Anxiety wraps are very effective in calming dogs, using gentle, constant pressure, similar to parents’ swaddling their babies to act as a security blanket. For more information on the Thundershirt Anxiety Wrap, go to www.thundershirt.com or call toll free 866-892-2078.
- NEVER give your dog any over-the counter or prescription medication without consulting your veterinarian. Drugs should always be a last resort solution, and should be prescribed by your vet.
- Sometimes nothing seems to work. Behavioral treatment takes two different approaches: desensitization, and counter-conditioning, and neither technique is very effective. Consult with an animal behaviorist, or your vet to discuss your options. This noise phobia is something that your dog cannot control….A dog afraid of storms requires plenty of extra patience and love from the caregiver.