Calming Storm Phobia in Your Dog

“Scaredy…Dog?”  It is not a title any pooch would be proud of. If you or someone you know has a pet struggling with storm phobia read on. Trying some of these techniques may bring improvement and give your dog a title he can live with like….”Thor, Dog of Thunder!”

Does your dog pace, pant, and follow you around the home when a storm is approaching? Even before owners are aware of an oncoming storm, many dogs are aware and some dreading its arrival. Some dogs are known to seek a hiding spot behind the toilet or in a closet, others become destructive to their surroundings in a state of panic.

If this describes your pup then he is suffering from storm phobia. The wind, thunder, and lightening that accompany the storm can trigger his fears. With his heightened senses, your dog can sense changes in barometric pressure, static electricity, and even low-frequency rumbles of the storm while it is yet undetectable to humans’ natural senses. One theory suggests that dogs experience painful shocks from static buildup before the storm.

Dogs with storm phobia don’t usually get better on their own but can get worse as the storm season continues. They also can seemingly develop the phobia out of nowhere with no signs during the previous years.

While there are no easy answers to fixing your dog’s phobia, there are some ways to help sooth his anxieties.

1. REWARD CALM BEHAVIOR

It is tempting to coddle your panicky pooch but handing out affection when your pet is in this state actually sends them the message that you are approving of their behavior. Scolding is not the answer either. The key is to have a command that helps your dog to settle down not only during a panic attack but whenever it may be necessary. One idea is to have an indoor leash to put on your pet and give him the down command. Once your pet is lying down calmly give praise for his behavior. This way you are giving your dog a routine and reinforcing that you are in control which is essential to any dog’s security. You can also try distracting your dog by offering his favorite toy, playing fetch, petting him, and feeding treats as long as he remains in a calm state. This can help replace the fears with something he enjoys and create a positive association.

2. GIVE YOUR DOG A SAFE PLACE

Does your dog have a favored place where he seeks refuge during a storm? If that place is safe then allow him to have access to it. Otherwise you may use an open crate, a basement where the dog can’t hear or see what’s happening, a room with music playing, or a bathroom to give him a sense of security. Do not lock him in however which can cause more anxiety not to mention dogs who are confined in a state of panic can chew and claw causing a lot of damage to your home. Allow him the ability to come in out as he pleases.

3. TRY A PRESSURE GARMENT

A snug-fitting pressure garment, such as the Thundershirt, can provide a calming effect similar to swaddling a baby. Also the Storm Defender, a metal fabric-lined cape, claims to protect dogs from static shocks. So far, the benefits of such garments is not proven but many pet owners are giving them a try.

4. DESENSITIZE YOUR DOG TO THE SOUNDS OF A STORM

Playing a CD of thunder recordings at a level that won’t frighten your dog, while giving him treats or playing a game, can help desensitize him to the sounds of a storm. Over the course of several months, gradually increase the volume, while checking for signs of anxiety. The goal is to get your dog used to the sound of thunder, and create a positive association between the storm and things your pet enjoys. This technique may have limited success in an actual storm since you can only recreate the noise, and not the other factors that may be bothering the dog, such as the static electricity or changes in barometric pressure.

5. ASK YOUR VET FOR ADVICE

Your vet can assess whether medication may be needed or if other behavioral modifications can be used. Not every dog will need medication but those that do will still benefit from many of the behavior modifications and desensitization techniques as well. At the University of Georgia, a 2003 study by veterinarians found that 30 out of 32 dogs with storm phobia showed significant signs of improvement when medication was combined with behavior modification as well as desensitization.

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