Dog Behavior, Scared Dog, Fearful Dog Training
Treating A Thunder Phobic Dog or Dog Afraid of Thunder and Noise
Treating A Dog Scared Of Thunder Storms Thunderstorm phobia in dogs can be one of the most stressful behavior problems to overcome. To live and witness our beloved dog going into a full blown panic attack with each rumble, truly is devastating. It is not uncommon for dogs that are afraid of storms to drool, pace, dig, rapid heartbeat, shaking, destroy things, defecate, and even cause injury to themselves. Having lived with an extremely thunder phobic dog, I can tell you this is not an easy phobia to address and can really affect your own life.
According to Dr. Karen Overall, 70 percent of all dogs who are fearful of other noises also have storm phobia and 90 percent of dogs with storm phobias are fearful of other noises. She also notes, that 70 percent of dogs with noise or storm phobias also have some form of separation anxiety.
A dog’s personality can play a big role in how they respond to stress, noise, and unfamiliar situations. If a dog is clingy, fearful, and nervous or lacks self-confidence, they can be more prone to develop behavioral problems. Confident and well-socialized dogs rarely develop extreme phobias.
Medical issues always need to be addressed with your veterinarian. You should talk to your veterinarian to rule out cognition dysfunction, hypothyroid disease, arthritis or blindness. Of course, any dog that develops a behavioral condition should always see their veterinarian for a full medical work up. Pain has a way of surfacing through behavioral problems in animals.
Traditional Chinese Medicine has been around for thousands of years. According to their philosophy, when a dog has a panicky personality, full of stress and anxiety, he would be considered to have a Shen Disturbance. The Heart Shen allows the dog to be calm and relaxed, something these dogs cannot do.
Phobias Get Worse Over Time A true phobia will get worse over time if not treated. A typical guardian will see subtle signs that their dog is stressed during storms, but they do not seek professional help during this time period. Dogs who are at greatest risk of developing a phobia will start to get gradually worse during each passing storm. With constant exposure, the dog can easily get to the point that the dog guardian can no longer calm the dog down during a storm, or worse yet, the dog will cause destruction of the home, or injure himself. The sad part is if the pet guardian sought out guidance, in the beginning, they would have an easier, and more successful resolution to the fear.
Treating Thunder Phobia At this point, those with thunder phobic dogs are wondering how to “fix” the problem. I wish there was a simple solution, but, unfortunately, there is not. There are so many factors involved with this phobia (severity, length of problem, how many storms, dog parent’s ability to manage) that finding the right treatment plan can be difficult. A dog guardian will likely try a few different ideas, and combinations before finding out what will work for their particular dog. There are a few general guidelines that every good treatment plan consists of, counter-conditioning and desensitization, adding calming aids and safety and management.
Counter Conditioning and Desensitization Desensitization is a process in which you would reduce the strength of a response to a certain stimulus, thunderstorm triggers for this purpose. Desensitization works by gradually exposing the dog to low levels of the stimulus. Counter conditioning works best when used along with desensitization and involves pairing the stimulus with a new association. In other words, you will be providing something good and valuable to your dog in the presence of a low-level and tolerable stimulus. This will start to change the dog’s present negative association with something to a positive association. This has to be done below threshold (being afraid) in order to work. This is what makes thunder phobia very tricky to treat. An example would be if your dog can tolerate the sound of loud rain, you would give him a tasty treat during the rain. Rain=Reward/Feeling Good.
Preparing For Thunder Season During Off Season The best treatment plan involves working below your dog’s fear, so off-season is the ideal time to start your behavior modification program. This will help to ensure no over threshold storms, and offer you plenty of good desensitization and counter conditioning lessons, before “real storms” roll in.
Your first step is to make a list of all your dog’s triggers that lead to him feeling anxious. Typical storm phobia triggers can include: The wind, rain, dark skies, barometric changes, lights flickering, smoke detector, computer re-boot or various noises.
Next, you want to pair these triggers with something your dog finds valuable. An example would be, set one of your household lights on a timer, and when the light goes off, immediately toss your dog a high-value treat such as cooked beef. Or, set your sprinkler on low, just to hit a small portion of your house, while you and your dog play one of his favorite games. To work on loud noises, I like to use the internet and do a search of thunderstorms and play the noise at various levels on various devices around the house. You can play a thunderstorm track on your smartphone, and tuck your phone on a high shelf. This will allow the noises to feel more real.
Help Calming Your Dog The best thing we can do for our anxious dogs is to help them lead the most stress-free life as possible and to work on confidence boosting and coping skills. Treating thunder phobia in dogs is about teaching your dog to tap into new emotions during a storm. It is not about teaching him “not to” but rather “how to feel”. The goal is to give them a sense of being relaxed, safe, and happy. Anything that can be added to your dog’s daily life to help elevate his stress will prove to be beneficial. The success of your dog’s treatment depends on him being stress-free and relaxed.
High-Quality Appropriate Diet I am sure you have heard the old saying, you are what you eat, this holds true for our dogs too. Having a proper diet and nutrients is essential for their physical, emotional and mental health. For dogs with Shen disturbances, a cooling diet that contains duck, rabbit, and cod can be very helpful. A neutral diet such as beef or pork will also work. Some other foods that help balance your dog’s nervous energy include sardines, sweet potatoes, chicken eggs, seaweed, kelp, apples, and spinach. A tailored diet that is home cooked is the ideal approach to assure your ingredients are from pure, wholesome food sources. Learn more in What’s For Dinner, Dexter?
Safe Place For a thunder-phobic dog, having a place to go, and learn to relax is important. Ideally, this will be a location that is as quiet as possible such as a basement or a room without windows. If this is not possible, you will want to do whatever you can to help make a room as sound-proof as you can, and block outside light, or lightning flashes. Heavy curtains, sound curtains, thick blankets, bookshelves against walls, door sweeps or sound-proof panels are pretty easy ways to decrease the sound in a room. If you are able to remove the carpet to prevent static buildup, even better.
- Storm Defender Cape Most thunder phobic dogs seek out hiding places that are grounded, such as a bathtub or behind the toilet. This is because those locations are electrically grounded, and do not give off a static shock like a carpet does. The Storm Defender Cape has a special metallic lining that lies directly on the dog’s fur, allowing the cape to shield the dog from the static in the air.
- Adaptil, D.A.P (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) Adaptil is a synthetic pheromone released by a mother dog after her puppies’ birth. This pheromone is related to the attachment process between the mother and her puppies, sending a comforting feeling and signals security.
- Mutt Muffs Mutt Muffs are made to reduce noise for dogs. They are designed specifically with a dog’s head in mind and are contoured to fit properly and comfortably. Their inner sound-deadening foam is the same density found in a pilot’s headset.
- White Noise or Music Adding background noise to help mask the sound of thunder can be quite helpful. You can try classical music, the radio, television, large fan, or a CD specifically developed for storm stress.
- Thundershirt’s Calming Cap The Calming Cap reduces a dog’s visual ability with a single-panel sheer fabric allowing enough vision for a dog to comfortably maneuver around, yet reduces aggravating visual stimuli.
Over The Counter Anti-Anxiety Options One common misconception about treating your dog with over the counter remedies is that they are always safe, in reality, this is not always true. If you opt to try an over the counter aid, it is still advisable to speak with your veterinarian about proper dosing and possible drug interactions with other medications your dog may be taking. If your veterinarian is unfamiliar with the below list, you can check with a holistic veterinarian who may be more familiar with these options.
Herbals, Oils, Homeopathy and Holistic Treatments:
- Panic Attack Flower Essence
- Shen Calmer
- RX Vitamins NutriCalm
- Buck Mountain Botanicals-Valerian
- Peace and Calming Essential Oil
- Lavender Essential Oil
- Massage, Acupressure, Ttouch
Medication A combination of behavior modification and drug therapy may be recommended. If your dog currently panics, tries to escape or hurts himself during a storm, or while you are away during a storm, please talk to your veterinarian. Medication affects the same neurochemical pathways involved in learning allowing you the help your dog develop new, positive memories associated with storms. Using the right medication along with a good behavior modification program can speed up the rate of treatment. Before taking Sileo, read my article- Noise Phobia and Thunder Phobia in Dogs: Is Sileo The Answer?
Be There For Your Dog This is the most important part of living with a thunder-phobic dog, and sometimes the hardest. Your dog truly needs you, or another person with him during a storm. If you can imagine being terrified and alone, and not knowing if you are going to be safe, this is what your dog is feeling. Being there will aid in your dog’s sense of security and safety. And, please comfort your dog. The old theory of reinforcing a fearful behavior has been discredited by research and science. Fear is an emotion, not a behavior, and your goal is to teach your dog to be emotionally content, not afraid. You will also be teaching your dog that they can count on you to keep them safe when things are scary.
Do You Have A Thunder Phobic Dog? I will help you learn some strategies to help your dog that suffers from thunder phobia. Available as an in-person consultation or via global dog training services (phone, email, video learning). In this specialized dog behavior modification program, I will teach you tools on how to keep your dog safe during storms while you start a behavior modification program to address your dog’s phobia.
We will discuss a long-term treatment plan, pheromones and other protocols to assist in your dog’s comfort during storms. We will also discuss how thunder phobia can increase your dog’s chances of developing separation anxiety and what you can do to try to prevent a second disorder. Contact me today to ease your dog’s thunder-phobia.