Calm During the Storm - Help for Your Dog's Fear of Thunderstorms Part I

 |  Apr 13th 2011  |   34 Contributions


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I admit that coming up with 20 new behavior blogs a month sometimes forces me to reach into the blogosphere in search of inspiration. Today's blog (and numerous past blogs) was inspired by Deborah Flick's wonderful blog, BoulderDog. Today, we'll talk a bit about thunderstorm fear in dogs. Tomorrow, I'll discuss some techniques I've found useful in teach of these instances. Before proceeding, let me emphasize that this is all anecdotal and, as far as I know, there are no studies to back up my theories.

I feel that there may be (at least) three different causes for thunderstorm fear and that the training techniques selected to address these problems may vary according to which aspects are triggering the fear response. These three are:

  • Fear of the sound of thunder: Does your dog's fear response begin when he first hears the thunder? Does he startle quickly at other loud, sharp sounds or sounds without easily identifiable sources? Fireworks? Cars backfiring? A dropped pan? Doors slamming? Does he respond to thunderstorm tapes, c.d's, or .mp3 files?
  • Static electric change in the environment: Does your dog try to "ground himself" by seeking shelter in a bathtub, under a table on a ceramic floor tile, or on any sort of rubber matting? Does your dog normally like touch but avoid your touch during a storm? Avoid carpeting and soft fibersIf so, your dog may be responding to changes in static electricity in the environment resulting from the arrival of the storm.
  • Change in barometric pressure: These are the dogs that generally try to get to "low ground" - running to hide in the basement, not wanting to come up until the storm has passed. These dogs often show reduced levels of discomfort in storm situations where thunder and lightening are not present.

These three factors are not mutually-exclusive, some dogs may key off all three elements mentioned, for them a combination of treatment techniques will be indicated. For all three situations, the use of general calmative aids may help you establish a less stressful environment for your dog. Calmative aids may include:

  • + Massage
  • + Dog Appeasing Pheremone or DAP - this is a synthetic replicate of a pheromone a dam would release while whelping her puppies to calm them. It's available in spray, collar, and plug-in form.
  • + Aromatherapy - my personal favorite is pharmaceutical grade lavender and vanilla essential oils diluted in distilled water. BEWARE! EO (essential oils) are not recommended for use in homes with resident kitties - their livers cannot appropriately metabolize EO in the environment, given internally, or applied to their skin.
  • + Supplements - Hey, I'm no vet, so you'll need to talk to yours about these. She should be able to instruct you which, if any, may be appropriate for your dog and in what doses. Some supplements which may help: melatonin, valerian root, supplements containing kava, chamomile, passion flower, or lemon balm, B-vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, GABA, l-theanine, and 5-HTP.
  • + Flower essences - while many are familiar with Rescue Remedy (which is a blend of a variety of flower essences and availability in a variety of forms including sprays, topical creams, drops, etc.), few know that there is a very wild world of flower essences - the difference can be remarkable in dogs for whom the right essence or blend is found/created. This book is a great resource for learning more. Flower essences are also discussed in the "bible" of fearful dog ownership, Help for Your Fearful Dog by Nicole Wilde.
  • + Homeopathic treatment - if you go this route, I highly suggest working in collaboration with a homeopath - there are fantastic consultants available online if you don't have a homeopath in your area. The homeopathic remedy selected for your dog will be highly individualized - your homeopath will want to take a detailed behavioral and physical history of your animal. Homeopathy is not "prescribing x remedy for y problem," it is about prescribing a single remedy which promotes physical and behavioral wellness in the whole being addressing a full symptom picture.
  • + Dietary modification - you may find that making changes to your dog's diet can help reduce his anxiety. Turkey-based foods are wonderful for anxious dogs who can tolerate them, l-tryptophan is an essential amino acid in turkey and is responsible for your feelings of sleepiness after Thanksgiving dinner! Adjusting levels of protein and carbohydrates according to your dog's needs and incorporating whole, fresh foods may make dramatic changes in his behavior. Here is a fantastic article from the wonderful Liz Palika on the topic of High Carb Diets and Behavior. Want to learn more? Try to get your hands on a copy of Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs: The Definitive Guide to Home-Made Meals by Lew Olson and check out Monica Segal's website, where you can have a customized diet created for your dog based on his unique needs.
  • + Meds - prescription medications for anxiety reduction are available and their use may be indicated in some dogs. When indicated, their use may be permanent or temporary depending on the dog. Meds alone will likely not solve this problem, so while you can talk to your vet about medication and if it may be right for your dog, expect to do some training to reduce his anxiety as well.

Also see: Calm During the Storm Part II and Part III

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