We humans are aware of the damage that storms can cause. In this sense we respect the power of storms. For dogs, however, it is the lightning and the noise that accompany them that are scary. Many of our clients have a dog that is suffering from thunder phobia. This little summary helps to manage the situation.
But why this phobia of thunder?
The fear of loud noises is common for a dog since it comes from his natural instinct for survival. When faced with a threat situation (its weird, unknown animal, new person) fear then sets in as a survival mechanism. This fear informs him of a dangerous situation, which immediately triggers the fight or flight mechanism. From this moment, your dog tries to solve the alarming situation, either by confronting him (fight), or and moving away (flight).
The problem occurs when a dog reacts excessively to thunder and eventually develops a phobia. This dog can react not only to thunder, but also to lightning, changes in barometric pressure, conditions of strong winds, and even dark days. In some cases, the fear becomes so intense that a loss of control can occur.
What are the signs of phobia to thunder?
Some dogs will look for the immediate proximity of their owner and will not leave them a single time during the storm. In the absence of the owner, some dogs will seek the comfort of a safe place (under the bed for example). Others will spend the storm barking or can attack the house, its furniture, etc. One of our clients found his dog bleeding paws after constantly scratching at the door of the house. Another returned home to find her littered with urine and faeces. A frightened dog can react in various ways.
What can I do to help my dog respond better to storms?
1) Create a neutral noise to calm your dog. A neutral noise is a noise known to your dog that does not frighten him. The radio, the television can create this kind of neutral noise.
2) Buy a “thunder jacket”. These clothes are made to fit snugly to your pet, giving them a sense of security and comfort.
3) Place your pet in the most sheltered place in your property. A windowless room adds to the absence of noise as it blocks lightning flashes that can scare your pet. Add sound from the radio, TV, and temporarily transfer your favourite bed, blankets and toys, food and water to this location during the storm.
4) Use your dog’s transport cage if the dog likes it. Simply place it in a quiet place, and cover it with a blanket so that the cage is safe from the sound and light induced by lightning.
5) Distracting your dog with games and rewards can be very effective. Placing dog treats in his toys could distract him during the storm.
6) Desensitize your dog to thunderstorms : To get there, play recordings of wind and thunderstorms to your dog when he is calm. Start with a recording played at low levels and increase the sound gradually. Repeat 3 times a week before the start of the storm season. Do not forget to comfort your pet during these sessions.
7) Ask your veterinarian.
If these techniques do not solve the problem, other approaches or anti-anxiety medication may be necessary. Many of our clients have worked hard to help their dog through the storm phobia. Some were successful with tips 1 to 6 and others had to add the medication to the treatment plan. Today they are no longer afraid to face the beautiful season with their animal.
If you work with your dog and collaborate with your veterinarian, the summer season will seem more appealing!