A beautiful day can quickly take a terrifying turn for dogs with storm phobias. Sensing an oncoming storm well before humans can see or hear anything, many dogs will simply go off to their own place that they have established as a safe place, such as a closet or under the bed. But, as the skies begin to darken, some usually self-confident dogs may begin to pant and pace around the house, cowering, hiding, or behaving erratically. A few will become hysterical with fear and anxiety enough to demolish furniture, dig through walls, jump through glass windows, and frantically try to get outside of the safety of their home to run free.
Behavioral treatment for this phobia takes two different approaches: desensitization, and counter-conditioning, and sadly, both have very limited effectiveness. Probably one of the best things you can do is to create a safe place for your dog to go when she hears noises that frighten her, recognizing that 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, but do NOT confine her there. The objective is to allow a sense of holing up, not to imprison an already fearful dog. Put her favorite blanket, treats, and toy chews with her, and close the blinds as any view of lightning can upset her even more.
To help a dog that fears thunderstorms:
- Don’t do anything that will reinforce the notion that there is something to be afraid of. Remain cool and indifferent to bad weather reactions. Don’t coddle or scold; talk to him in a calm, reassuring voice, even try to act as though you enjoy the storm.
- Don’t pull a fearful dog from his hiding spot. If he wants to hide in a corner or closet, he retreated there because he feels safe. If he ventures out on his own, try to refocus his attention. If you can massage the ears, play ball, 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 is sometimes soothing, and although there are many CD’s that claim to “calm dogs down”, I call most of them “snake oil”, but one, Canine Lullabies, 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, or call toll free 1-800-537-7748 for more information.
- Holistic vets often suggest Bach flower remedies. Odorless, and tasteless, they come in liquid form, and can be given every few minutes for as long as needed. If you know a storm is predicted, you can put 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 info go to www.bachflower.com or call 800-214-2850.
- Anxiety wraps claim to calm dogs by using gentle, constant pressure, similar to parents swaddling their babies, to act as a security blankets. If you are interested in more information on the Thundershirt Anxiety Wrap,, go to www.thundershirt.com or call toll free 866-892-2078.
- Do NOT give your dog any over-the-counter or prescription medication without consulting your veterinarian. Drugs should ALWAYS be a last resort solution.
- If you are unable to achieve success with any suggested treatments, consult with an animal-behavior specials and your veterinarian.
This heartbreaking phobia is something that your dog cannot control. A dog afraid of storms requires plenty of extra patience and love from the caregiver!