We’re heading back into storm season and this year won’t be any easier for those dogs that hate things that go BANG! In fact, in most cases fear of storms tends to worsen as our pets age. So, what can you do to help make experiencing a storm easier for your pet?
CAUSES AND TRIGGERS
Understanding what aspects of a storm upset your dog will help in easing their fear.
Noise – Dogs can hear noises at a much greater distance than humans can. Most dogs can hear an approaching storm far off into the distance and have already started reacting before it even grows near.
Electricity – Dogs are sensitive to electricity in the air and while we don’t know why they react the way they do, it often causes an unsettling and unpleasant reaction in them. Similarly, the pressure in the air changes with an impending storm.
Smell – The scents associated with a storm are much stronger for your dog, whose sense of smell far dwarfs the abilities of us humans.
Routine – You may not realise that you act differently when a storm is approaching, but your pet is extra sensitive to any changes in your routines or behaviour. The key is to stay upbeat, not pitying or overly affectionate during a storm. While a gentle pat to assure them is okay, be careful not to “reward” fearful behaviour with praise.
Other pets – Sometimes fearful behaviour can be contagious from one pet to another. Therefore, handle both the fearful dog and other pets carefully during storms and don’t reward any anxious behaviours to keep them from growing.
This is a slow process where the dog is exposed to low volumes of storm effects while experiencing pleasant things such as a favourite game, or treats. This must be repeated many times, and storm effects must be ever so gradually increased in a manner that does not upset the dog. This can be a tricky endeavor, which if not done properly, can actually make the dog’s fear worse. If, at any point during the desensitization, the dog shows any fear, any progress may be lost and the training may have to start from the beginning.
Dogs should always have a safe place where they can go, such as a crate or under a bed. Closed curtains or blinds will block out flashes of lightning and rain on the window.
DO NOT yell at, punish or try to restrain a fearful dog. This will NEVER help and will only serve to increase his terror. Allow the dog to go to his place of security. Also, keep your dog inside during storm phobias, as many dogs will panic and escape during a thunderstorm. Always have adequate identification on your dog, so if this does happen he can be safely returned.
For the More Severe Cases.
Different things seem to help different dogs. Beyond the above tactics, here are some things you may decide to try:
1. A quiet, dark, sheltered refuge. Your dog may find the preferred spot independently, leaving you to simply make sure it stays consistently available to the dog.
2. If your dog injures himself during storms a secluded crate may help.
3. Adaptil Collars and Plug in-diffusers are showing some promising results in calming fearful dogs, and they don’t have side effects. Consider setting one up in the area used by the dog.
4. It may be necessary to use medications that control anxiety. Due to the unpredictability of storms, it may not be possible to administer a sedative when it’s needed. Other long term medications generally do not work until the dog has been on them for weeks.
5. For some reason, there are dogs who find it comforting to get under a “security blanket” to combat storm fears. Recently “ThunderShirts” have been shown to help.
6. An Animal Behaviourist Specialist can help you work out a behaviour modification program to work on this problem.
DO NOT take storm phobias lightly, even if the problem seems minor in your dog. It will get worse if handled badly, and dogs have been known to jump through glass windows during storms. Many dogs have fled fenced yards. This is a major problem that calls for intelligent handling at the first sign.