It’s easy to see when a dog has ‘issues’ with thunderstorms. It’s not so easy to help them before, during and after. Many dogs have become so sensitized to thunderstorms that they won’t go outside hours before to days after a storm. While there is a range of behavior exhibited by such dogs – trembling, drooling, pacing, hiding, whining, howling and attempts to escape – there are some differences in the reasons for the behavior.
Some dogs respond more to the electrical charges in the air that signal barometric pressure changes and gravitate towards bathrooms where copper plumbing pipes help to alleviate discomfort by discharging electricity to ground. Some dogs huddle in bath tubs near the drains perhaps for the same reason but possibly for the feeling of containment and contact when alone during a storm. Others can’t cope with the noise of thunder and often hide in the inner most areas of the home to ‘get away’ from the ‘thunder bombs’. A few dogs in my client base have been sensitized to the visual of lightning because they were left outdoors without cover and had to endure even a single storm from beginning to end. It’s possible that a small number of dogs left to deal with it on their own may ‘get over it’ but, many many dogs get worse with each storm and each passing year. What can you do to help?
Studies, just a few, have shown that dogs do better during storms when in the company of other dogs than with just people. Dogs tend to settle in and wait out storms silently, just as we do. As is most often my advice, applying what dogs do *naturally* is a first principle. Teaching your dog to settle and relax on his or her bed is a foundation behavior that is often used to begin to classically counter-condition (CC) and desensitize (DS) the previous emotional response. The CC/DS process typically involves exposing dogs to a low volume sound of thunder and gradually increasing the volume while maintaining the CC response of relaxation. The process of desensitizing dogs to thunderstorms operates on the assumption that the dog is most affected by the sound of thunder, which may be true for many but not for all.
Frequently, thunder phobic dogs need additional support to reduce anxiety. Veterinarians often prescribe sedatives in extreme cases and anti-anxiolytic drugs to aid in the CC/DS process. Some people have seen dogs respond well to herbal remedies and homeopathic formulations as well as DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheremone) collars, sprays and diffusers; thundershirts, and music created for and tested on dogs. Be sure to always consult with your veterinarian before giving any drug or other therapeutic products to your dog. Herbs, etc. can cause adverse reactions too.
It’s difficult to see a loved one so stressed. Often we think we’ve done everything we can and give in to just living with it. Sometimes, it’s the one thing you haven’t done yet OR it’s a totally new way of being with your dog that does the trick! Give your dog a natural stress busting outlet by playing scent games. If your dog is stressed by thunderstorms, contact me today. Together we can do something to help your dog.