Calm Your Dog's Thunderstorm Phobia
PetSmart Jeannine Alexander/PetSmart Charities
Dogs seem to know the storm is coming before the first flash of lightning and first clap of thunder. Some begin to look for a place to hide. Some start to shake uncontrollably and drool. Some even commit acts of serious destruction in an attempt to escape. They are in the fierce grip of thunderstorm phobia.
What is thunderstorm phobia?
Thunderstorm phobia in dogs is an irrational fear of thunder and lightning that is disproportionately intense to the real danger facing the animal. Many dogs show nervous behavior before or during storms. However, for others the fear is so intense, they may seriously harm themselves. Some dogs can be taught to moderate the level of fear they experience or eliminate it altogether and others may need medications to relieve their anxiety.
If your dog is experiencing thunderstorm phobia, a visit to the veterinarian is always recommended. Your veterinarian can make sure that there are no underlying medical conditions and make recommendations for the best course of treatment.
Ways to calm the storm
The first recommendation may be to use behavior modification techniques like desensitization or counter conditioning to lessen the fear. Your veterinarian or behavior consultant can help you design the right plan for your dog’s needs.
Desensitization gradually introduces the storm "triggers" at safe levels. Counter conditioning pairs the triggers (the thunder and/or lightning) with a reaction opposite to the fear the dog usually experiences. For example, a CD of thunderstorm sounds is played at a very low volume while the Pet Parent provides pleasant and familiar distractions (perhaps a ball game). If there is no reaction from the dog, the volume is slowly increased as long as the threshold of fear is not crossed. The dog’s perception of the storm is changed to include some positive experiences to help balance and decrease the negative ones.
These approaches require a considerable commitment of energy and time from the Pet Parent, but they can be a good investment.
There are several holistic methods to approach thunderstorm phobia, including calming pheromones and anxiety wraps. Ask your veterinarian or behavior consultant for details about these treatments and to determine if they could be right for your dog.
As a last resort, your veterinarian may prescribe medications for when thunderstorm phobia is so severe that the dog may be causing injury to himself. Both holistic and prescription treatments are most effective when used in combination with behavior modification.
Regardless of the treatment approach, it is important that the owner remains calm and upbeat throughout the storm. The best action is to console the dog, focus on safety, create a distraction and be the confident companion that projects "everything’s fine."