Thunder, lightning and other fears

Doris Dressler
Doris Dressler

Doggie Dialogues
By Doris Dressler
Photos by Doris Dressler

        I don't think I can stand it
Thunder and Lightning
I tell you it's frightening
It's thunder and lightning
~Chi Coltraine, Thunder and Lighting







Shaking, panting, pacing, hiding under the bed—thunderstorm phobia and its symptoms are an all too common problem for many dogs, leaving their distraught owners feeling helpless.

What causes a dog to become afraid of storms? The most apparent reason is the noise. Many dogs suffering from noise phobia are not only fearful of thunder but also may be afraid of fireworks, gunshots, construction noises or even popping balloons.

Changes in barometric pressure can cause ear discomfort. Older, arthritic dogs may experience more pain than usual. Perhaps something very frightful happened to the dog during a thunderstorm and the dog now associates this with storms. Genetics may also come into play.

  Doggie Dialogues
  Scruffy is less anxious when he sports his Thundershirt.

New theories on handling fear
For years, dog trainers instructed clients not to pet or coddle fearful dogs, suggesting that doing so rewards the fear and reinforces the behavior. What many trainers failed to consider is that fear is an emotion.

“Dogs act afraid because they feel afraid,” stated Dr. Suzanne Hetts of Animal Behavior Associates. “It has long been known that while behaviors can be influenced by rewards and punishments, emotions aren’t much affected by them.”

Hetts offers this analogy: “If I am afraid of flying, for example, I won’t become more fearful if someone hugs me or gives me $100 while I’m acting afraid. Nor will I become less afraid if someone yells at me and says don’t be afraid! Fears are usually not rational, so someone telling me that I’m safer in an airplane than I am in a car probably won’t help dissipate my fear.”

While humans can pretend to be afraid, dogs are not capable of this behavior. Petting your dog during a thunderstorm will not make your dog act afraid on purpose for the attention it gets him.

Petting your dog during a storm may not reduce stress (cortisol) levels, but recent studies indicate that there still appear to be things happening that make your pet feel less frightened. So go ahead—pet and reassure your dog. You are not doing your dog any harm but may actually be helping him.

If you are genuinely afraid of thunderstorms though, your dog may “synchronize” with you, meaning your dog may copy your behavior or mood and become more frightened.

Solutions
Dogs with thunderstorm phobia frequently find and create their own hiding place in a bathtub, behind toilets or under a bed. If this makes your dog feel safe, encourage the behavior by taking your dog to this hiding place before the storm begins.

 Many dogs like to go into their metal crates during a storm, possibly to avoid the static electricity that often accompanies a storm.

D.A.P. (dog appeasing pheromone) collars have been found to have a calming effect on some dogs. Female dogs secrete pheromones that comfort and reassure their nursing puppies; these pheromones have been found to often have the same calming effect on adult dogs.

Other natural products that may be effective in calming your dog during a storm include flower essence products, such as Rescue Remedy. Check with your veterinarian before starting your dog on any natural treatment. Your vet also may be able to prescribe anxiety-reducing drugs for your pet.

Music therapy also can help a stressed pet. More information can be found at soundstrue.com.
   
Gentle hugging calms your pet
The Thundershirt was initially developed to help address thunderstorm phobia, but pet owners have found the Thundershirt to be helpful in addressing a variety of other fear-based behavior issues, including separation anxiety, travel (car) anxiety, crate training, barking, hyperactivity and leash pulling.

This product uses gentle hugging to calm your pet. Pressure has been found to have a calming effect on the nervous system, possibly by releasing a calming hormone like endorphins. The use of pressure to relieve anxiety in humans and animals is a common practice and has been used for centuries.

Parents “swaddle” or tightly wrap their baby in a blanket to calm a newborn infant. Dr. Temple Grandin, well-known animal scientist, author and autistic activist, created the “hug box,” a device used to calm autistic children after she discovered that pressure around her own torso provided her with relief from anxiety. TTouch practitioners use pressure on animals to address anxiety. Veterinarians use pressure to relax cattle while administering vaccines.

If your pet finds thunder and lightning to be frightening, give this money-back-guaranteed product a try.

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