It’s thunderstorm season. While I’ve read that 20 percent of dogs are thunder-phobic, the number may actually be higher, as it doesn’t include people who have never sought treatment for their thunder-phobic dogs. People with thunder-phobic dogs know that it is no small problem. It doesn’t go away by itself, and left untreated, it only seems to get worse with age.
Symptoms of canine thunder-phobia include destruction, anxiousness, pacing and panting, hyperactivity, and crawling into a confined space, such as a bathtub or under the bed. The fear is often completely irrational. In most cases, nothing “bad” has ever happened to the dog during a thunderstorm. It’s more about a fear of what could happen. A dog with a severe thunderstorm phobia appears to think the world is coming to an end. Some people worry that their panic-stricken dogs are going to have a heart attack. To make matters worse, people often feel helpless and panic-stricken themselves when they don’t know how to help their dogs.
Six Holistic Ways to Calm your Thunder-Phobic Dog:
1) Confined Spaces: Allow them to go into a confined space, if they desire. If they are most comfortable in the bathtub, their crates, under the bed, or in a closet, allow them to be in that space. The space they retreat to may also be a quieter space that helps them minimize the sounds of the thunderstorm.
2) Counter Classical Conditioning: The idea is to pair something that your dog absolutely loves with the thing that they are afraid of. Timing is of great importance, because it’s important to start this before your dog’s anxiety is built up too much. When he is just sensing a storm approaching and starts to show mild signs of anxiety, make chicken fall from the sky, or take out his favorite toy for a fun game of play. If your dog is food motivated, this is a good time to have some very high value reward that he goes bonkers over. If you wait until your dog is already extremely panic-stricken, this probably won’t work. But, if you can keep his focus on the treats or toys, when the sounds get louder, rewarding just after a loud thunder boom with the high value reward could be very beneficial. Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., CAAB, has more detailed information on counter classical conditioning here.
3) Sound Therapy has been very effective in helping dogs with mild to severe thunder phobia issues. Play Music to Calm your Canine Companion by Through a Dog’s Ear . It includes classical selections with psychoacoustically designed changes that are clinically demonstrated to relieve canine anxiety issues. It is usually most effective when you first play the music well before the thunderstorm starts, at a time the dog is already feeling peaceful and relaxed. He will begin to associate the music with being calm and content. The music doesn’t need to be loud to be effective as it has been clinically demonstrated to calm the canine nervous system. Here’s a great story from Mel about her dog Bean, a formerly panic-stricken thunder-phobic dog. Though skeptical, she had tried everything else and introduced Bean to Through a Dog’s Ear music right when the storm started. Bean not only snoozed through that storm, but has since slept comfortably through every subsequent storm. Listen to free sound samples.
4) Desensitization and Habituation: Canine Noise Phobia is an innovative desensitization training tool that combines three distinctive elements for the treatment and prevention of sound-sensitivities and noise-phobias: progressive sound effects, specially-designed psychoacoustic music, and reward-based reinforcement protocols. Thunderstorms CD includes training protocol written by Victoria Stilwell, the famed dog trainer on Animal Planet’s It’s Me or the Dog.
5) Wraps: There are two canine wraps on the market that reportedly help sound-phobic dogs. The original Anxiety Wrap was invented by professional dog trainer Susan Sharpe, CPDT-KA. The patented design uses acupressure and maintained pressure to reduce stress and the stretchable, lightweight fabric breathes and allows your dog to wear it in hotter temperatures. The thunder shirt is also a wrap for your dog that provides gentle, constant pressure (although made of a much heavier material). Their website reports that over 85 percent of Thunder shirt users see significant improvement in noise anxiety symptoms. Most dogs respond with the very first usage; others need 2-3 usages before showing significant improvement.
6) Pheromone Therapy: According to the Dog Appeasing Pheromone website, pheromone therapy has been very effective and successful in treating phobias and stress experienced by dogs. Pheromones are natural chemicals within animals and are said to be the chemical that affects animal behavior. For dog appeasing pheromone therapy, pheromones are taken in through the nasal passage of the dog to produce a calming effect on one part of the brain that is connected to the dog’s behavior and emotion. DAP is supplied to dogs as a plug-in diffuser, a spray (which has been scientifically tested and has been shown to be effective on decreasing stress driven behaviors by more than 85 percent), and a DAP collar.
These are all holistic ways to intervene and consult with your veterinarian an=s if these methods are not successful and pooch is struggling, need to intervene with possible medical intervention. There are a multitude of drugs that can be used to alter behavior; ideally, we don’t like to drug Fido…so talk with your veterinarian about the mentioned items to choose the right approach for your dog.