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Dogs Afraid Of Thunderstorms - What You Should Know

By: Susan Sharpe, APDT, CPDT-KA

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Many dogs are afraid of thunderstorms. They may try to hide, pace, pant, urinate, defecate, chew and exhibite other destructive behaviors. Some dogs are so fearful they damage property and even injure themselves in an attempt to escape the storm. These dogs are having a panic attack and the result can be very dramatic.

Why do Dogs have Fears?

Through genetics, a dog can be predisposed to fear. Some breeds are more sensitive to sounds than other breeds. Other dogs become fearful through bad experiences. A traumatic incident such as having firecrackers tossed at them, a nearby vehicle backfiring, the whoosh of a hot-air balloon, being chained outside during a storm, could cause a dog to associate all storms with a scary event.

The fears can progress. Some dogs may begin to fear the wind, rain and loud noises in general. They can be sensitized to start anticipating the storms and the fear cycle begins. Many dogs with fears will learn to sense the barometric pressure change and see the lightening and even feel the static charges when lightening strikes starting their symptoms.

What Do Fearful Dogs Do?

Symptoms vary by dog but some dogs hide in bathtubs, closets and tight spaces, possibly trying to reduce the intermittent charges. Other dog will have behaviors such as pacing, scratch flooring, climb upward and even try to sit on their owner's face while attempt to sleep!

What Should You Do If Your Dog Show Signs of Fear?

If your dog shows signs of stress during a thunderstorm, never punish him for his behavior. Yes, it can be frustrating when you find he has chewed woodwork or destroyed items, but adding punishment along with storms will only make his fear and resulting damage, worse. How you behave when your dog is afraid, can dramatically affect how he will act during the next storm. Many owners, with the best of intentions, attempt to comfort their dog. The dog may misinterpret the owners meaning and find their behavior is being rewarded and continue reacting to storms in order to gain the added attention.

Here are some tips:

1. See Your Vet. If your dog suffers from thunder phobia, check with your Veterinarian for any possible health issues that may add to their anxiety. Thyroid problems, seizures, weight, diet, pain and other health issues will add stress and compound your dog's anxiety. Discuss with your Veterinarian options and possibly medications that may help your dog. Anti-anxiety medications such as prozac, valium and others are now being used to treat fearful dogs as an alternative to simply sedating the dog.

2. Counter-conditioning. You can try counter-conditioning, which can be successful if the dog is not so stressed he will stop eating. As a storm approaches, really good things happen for you dog. He gets extra tasty treats. You play fun games and keep the atmosphere of your home light and happy. When the weather is good, play a thunderstorm CD at a low level while your dog eats and plays. Gradually and systematically increase the volume as long as your dog remains calm. Correctly done this can take months of conditioning to be successful and should be done out of storm season.

3. Try a Gentle Wrap. The newest product to help dog with fears and anxiety is a product called the Anxiety Wrap. The Anxiety Wrap® uses maintained pressure and acupressure to help reduce anxiety and stress to help your dog remain calm. It is similar to swaddling a baby. The Anxiety Wrap® uses the body's receptors to effectively raise the threshold so more stimuli are required before those receptors fire. The Anxiety Wrap® not only helps with thunderstorm phobia, but also many stress related behavior problems like barking, separation anxiety, car rides, destructive chewing, digging, scratching and more. "Found 89% effective. The Anxiety Wrap is a safe and effective treatment for canine thunderstorm phobia" taken from a clinical research study conducted by Dr Nicholas Dodman and Nicole Cottam MS, ACAAB. Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, MA.

We hope these tips will help your dog during periods of anxiety such as those caused by thunderstorms.

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