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Jun 13 2015

Helping Dogs With Thunder Phobia

Why is my dog so terrified of thunder?

Fear of loud noises is common in dogs and arises from their natural instinct to survive. When they face a threatening situation (strange sound, strange animal, strange person, etc.), fear is nature’s way of protecting them from harm. The dog’s fear alerts him to potential danger and stimulates a “fight or flight” mechanism to keep him safe by either addressing the danger or fleeing from it.

The problem is that some dogs have an excessive fear of thunderstorms and develop a phobia. These dogs react adversely to the noise but also to the associated lightning, change in barometric pressure, windy conditions and darkening sky. When thunder-phobic dogs get really scared, they act out.

What are the most common signs of thunder phobia?

Scared dogs can react in many different ways. Some dogs seek the comfort of their owners and won’t leave their sides during bad weather. But since owners aren’t always at home during stormy weather, dogs may seek a cozy place to hide or may pace constantly.

Others bark continuously or become destructive in the home; there are stories of dogs who scratched at the door until their feet bled, or of owners coming home to find piles of urine and feces all over the house.

What can I do to help my dog through thunder storms?

We all feel badly for the poor dog that suffers from excessive storm anxiety. How sad to see them so miserable. There are several ways pet owners can help their dogs deal with storm phobia.

  • Create white noise to calm the dog. White noise can take many forms. You can purchase a noise machine or simply turn on the TV or radio.
  • Purchase a thunder garment. These weighted vests are fashioned to fit snugly and “hug” the dog. The pressure on the torso makes many dogs feel more secure.
  • Place the dog in the most soundproof area of the house. If there is an inner room without windows, basement, or large closet, relocate the dog’s bed there temporarily. Move his water bowl and favorite toy there, too. Turning on the sound machine or TV in this area is an added advantage. Rooms without windows also block out lightning.
  • Use the crate. If your dog likes his crate, simply move it to a quieter area of the house or cover it with a blanket to muffle sound and limit light.
  • Distract the dog with play or treats. Try placing kibble in a Kong toy to keep his mind off the storm, or play an indoor game of fetch as a distraction.
  • Desensitize your dog to storms. Between storms, expose your dog to recordings of thunder and wind while he is calm. Start by playing the recording softly and gradually increase the volume. Reassure him during the recordings. Provide these sessions 3 times weekly before storm season starts.
  • Ask your veterinarian for anti-anxiety medication. If these tactics don’t solve the situation, ask your doctor to prescribe medication. Medicine PLUS the above tactics may be just the ticket for your dog.

With a lot of patience and persistence, and sometimes the help of a veterinarian, many dogs are able to move past their phobias. Hopefully your dog – and you – won’t dread summer thunderstorms anymore!

Dr. Jessica Jones | Behavior

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