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What can I do about my dogs fear of storms?

By: Dr. Jon Rappaport

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Our question this week was:

Dr. Jon - My dear dog Whisper was given to me 7 months ago by a friend who found him in a park during a big storm. Whenever bad weather arrives or is about to arrive, she pants and shakes greatly. Nothing we do seems to calm her. I noticed her getting between the bathtub and the toilet, so I put down a towel and one of my old t-shirts for her little storm nook. Unfortunately her phobia is getting worse. She won't leave the apt. now if it is only a little windy. And sometimes when I walk her now, she be fine for a while but then refuse to budge even though I pull on her leash. Then the only way to move her is to pick her up.

When I first got her, she would go out for a walk at night, but now she won't. I do remember that one time a few months ago, I was taking her out when suddenly there was a big clap of thunder, so of course, she raced back home asap. I can't even get her to walk around the apt complex during the day like she used to do. Whisper is a fabulous little dog, and my family and I adore her. What can we do to help her? Thank you so much.


Answer

Hi – thanks for your email. You wrote that your dog Whisper is having progressive phobia and fear of storms. I'd recommend that you read the following article on "Fear of Noises". Our behaviorist – Dr. Nick Dodman wrote the article and he is wonderful. There are several things to do (and not to do). Some people reinforce their dogs fear by giving them lots of attention during storms.

Treatments that Dr. Dodman often discusses include:

  • Treatment may be as simple as bringing your dog indoors, turning on the radio/television/fan/air conditioner ("white noise"), or providing a comfortable hiding place or "safe place."

  • If your dog's signs are more severe, a program of counter-conditioning and desensitization may be helpful. This involves replicating the noise by tape recording and then exposing your relaxed dog to the noise at low volume. You can then increase the volume gradually, taking care not to cause your dog to become fearful. A veterinarian or behaviorist can help you design an appropriate program.

  • Desensitization to thunderstorms is difficult using this technique because other difficult-to-recreate stimuli are presently simultaneously in a real storm e.g. changes in barometric pressure, darkening skies, and perhaps even certain odors (ozone?). The real situation will often precipitate the phobic reaction even after desensitization using taped recordings.

  • Your dog's veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist may also recommend anti-anxiety medication.

    Best of luck!


    Dr. Jon



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