You may have a dog that suffers from thunderstorm phobia or may know someone whose dog does. This is a very upsetting problem for owners and dogs and can be the cause of serious injury to some dogs. Here are some actions that veterinarians, researchers, behavior professionals and laypeople have found that may help.
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A phobia is defined as a sudden and intense response that is out of proportion to the actual threat. It may take just one exposure to the perceived threat. The dog’s behavior does not improve with gradual repeated exposures to the cause of fear. Your dog may begin trembling, show rapid eye blinking, hypervigilance, ears held back, drooling and repetitive behaviors such as paw licking and being overly clingy or hiding. Some dogs have jumped through plate-glass windows or doors to get into or out of a house during a storm.
Thunderstorms involve multiple components, including a booming sound, a change in barometric pressure, wind, rain and lightning. Sound is a major component. Also, when a storm approaches, there is an increase in static electricity in the atmosphere. One theory is that the charged air can cause shocks to dogs. Dogs with long or thick coats particularly can be affected. Two factors that can contribute to your dog’s fearful response to an approaching storm are having less exercise than usual or perhaps a person is absent who your dog might go to for comfort. Your dog also may react to your emotional response to the situation. Here are some suggestions by Dr. Nicholas Dodman to help determine if static electricity is affecting your dog and how to help:
1. Wipe your dog down with antistatic laundry sheets.
2. Mist your dog with water from a spray bottle.
3. Spray the undersides of your dog’s paws with antistatic spray.
4. Make sure your dog is on a tile or linoleum floor.
5. Put your dog in the car and take her for a ride.
Dr. Dodman notes that “many dogs are happy as bugs in a rug when put in a car and driven around during a storm.”
Many dogs will seek the comfort of a bathtub, lie under a sink or go to a basement during a storm because the plumbing in those areas provides grounding. Some dogs will hide in their crates. Be sure to provide a safe refuge for your dog by leaving open access to these areas.
The use of body wraps such as a Thundershirt or an Anxiety Wrap has been shown to be beneficial, as reported in a recent study conducted by Nicole Cottam, Nicholas H. Dodman and James Ha. Body wraps look like little coats but are wrapped snugly around your dog’s chest and torso. They are designed to create tactile pressure that is thought to produce a “calming effect on the nervous system.” The results of this study provide evidence that the Anxiety Wrap used was therapeutic for thunderstorm phobia in many dogs and reduced the severity of clinical signs by almost 50 percent. Body wraps should be put on your dog before they are in a full-blown panic. They should be removed when the storm is over. It’s wise to introduce and use the body wrap outside the fear-inducing situation frequently so it does not always foretell something bad.
In this area where storms tend to build up in the afternoon, coming home for lunch and putting your dog’s body wrap on along with putting some of the other suggestions into place before you go back to work might go a long way toward helping him during this thunderstorm season.
“Dogs Behaving Badly: An A-Z Guide to Understanding and Curing Behavioral Problems in Dogs” by Dr. Nicholas Dodman, Bantam Books, 1999.
“Help For Your Fearful Dog: A Step-by-Step Guide to Helping Your Dog Conquer His Fears”
by Nicole Wilde, CPDT, Phantom Publishing, Santa Clarita, CA 2006.
“The effectiveness of the Anxiety Wrap in the treatment of canine thunderstorm phobias. An open label trial.” Department of Clinical Sciences, Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, North Grafton, MA and Department of Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. “Journal of Veterinary Behavior,” 2012.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training LLC with more than 25-plus years of experience. Learn more at www.totalteamworktraining.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.