Hope for dogs with storm or noise phobias
Flickr photo courtesy of TheGiantVermin
One of the things that I hear from dog owners frequently is that their dogs are frightened of storms. I always ask, “Are they frightened of the storm itself — or the noise of the thunder?”
The responses seem to be about divided right down the middle. That’s interesting, because one would think that the noise of thunder would solely be a trigger for dogs. Then again, canines use all of their senses much more effectively than humans, so there’s a possibility that they pick up on other cues that are a signal to them that a storm is coming.
I had a black Labrador retriever years ago that was deathly afraid of storms, thunder, and even rain. If he smelled rain, he would retreat to the bathroom and hide in the shower stall; shivering, drooling.
It was so sad.
Our current dogs are much more relaxed when it comes to storms. Bruiser could care less, unless the thunder is really loud.
Gretchen, now that she’s older, isn’t fond of the noise of thunder. It seems that the noise to her these days is just different, possibly because of changes in her hearing. Simply keeping her doggy bed next to where we sleep does the trick, along with a scratch behind the ears and a kind word.
But, not all dogs are so lucky when a thunderstorm makes an appearance.
There have been a lot of solid theories as to what can trigger a pet into an anxious state when it comes to storms — the noise of thunder itself (especially in sound-sensitive dogs), or as Dr. Nicholas Dodman points out — a dog’s ability to sense the static electricity generated during a storm (which evidently is an uncomfortable feeling), sensing barometric pressure or perhaps just an association with a traumatic experience during a storm.
All of these are pretty valid theories, but what I find is that people are less interested in theories and just want their pets to not be anxious. Not being able to console your dog is a disheartening thing.
There are a few things that have been floated around as effective ways to help combat the stress that our four-legged friends experience during unruly weather:
Counter classical conditioning: This method is simply based on getting your pooch to associate the noise of the thunder with something good. I wrote about this last summer in a blog post titled, “Storm Treats! Help for dogs scared by storms, thunder and lightning”. Read that by clicking here.
Pressure wraps: Swaddling and deep pressure have been proven to provide both humans and animals a sense of comfort. Temple Grandin, Ph.D. expands on the topic of deep pressure in animals. Some dogs can benefit from wearing a Thundershirt, or a snug-fitting T-shirt. The theory is that the sensation of deep pressure, (in this case a variation of it) around the torso primarily, or swaddling — modulates the central nervous system, producing a calming effect.
Anti-static capes, sprays and softener sheets: The premise of using any of these is to to reduce static build up Dr. Dodman has had success instructing owners to spray anti-static spray on their dogs’ paws or swiping them with a softener sheet (I'm not too keen on the latter suggestion, as even the most natural ingredients could be licked off and ingested by your pooch.) Find more about a Tufts University study on a product called Storm Defender here.
T-Touch: An approach first developed for horses by Linda Tellington-Jones, this method is used worldwide to address a number of issues, including noise phobias in canines.
Dog appeasing pheromone: Also referred to as DAP, a synthetic pheromone produced by lactating bitches. Undetectable and safe for anyone outside of the canine species, DAP has been effective in addressing anxiety of various forms for dogs, and can be found in a spray form, a collar that is worn and replaced every four weeks or in a diffuser. You might recall my talking about Feliway, the feline version of the same pheromone. DAP helps to attain an overall sense of well being in dogs.
The great thing about these specific suggestions, they are easy to implement and none of them have side effects. Depending on the severity of your dog’s discomfort when it comes to anxiety associated with storms, you can tailor a plan of action that works by trying one at a time, or perhaps more than one in tandem.
For more ideas on how your storm or noise-phobic pet can gain some solace, read this 'The Other End of the Leash' blog post.
Lorrie Shaw is lead pets blogger for AnnArbor.com and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email , contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.
Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 7:26 p.m.
My youngest dog not only goes into the bathroom during a storm, but if someone happens to be using the shower they get company when my dog pops open the shower stall and jumps in regardless if the shower's running or not.
Fri, Apr 29, 2011 : 2:31 a.m.
You're kidding? That must be quite a surprise!
Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 1:21 p.m.
Mine was a Cairn Terrier, Bilbo, who before I heard a clap of thunder, would jump on the couch and pee, totally empty his bladder. Oops pads took care of any damage, but I was always forewarned of thunder storms.
Fri, Apr 29, 2011 : 2:30 a.m.
Ruth: Poor pup! So hard to not be uneasy when you're not sure what is going on, right? Animals are so "in-tune" to things. Thanks so much for sharing your experience.
Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 3:04 a.m.
Here's a summary that might explain why dogs hide out in the bathroom during a period of time when stormy weather is imminent: <a href="http://lorrieshaw.blogspot.com/2011/04/storms-dogs-anxiety-and-bathrooms-what.html" rel='nofollow'>http://lorrieshaw.blogspot.com/2011/04/storms-dogs-anxiety-and-bathrooms-what.html</a>
Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 2:01 a.m.
I used to have a stoic German Shepherd, Joe, that would dive into bed next to me & cry like a puppy during storms. This dog was exquisitely well-trained to protect me from all sorts of ne'er-do-wells but curled into the figurative fetal-position during storms. Poor pup, may he rest in peace. What about loud popping & crackling of fireworks? Do you see the same dogs having similar reactions to fireworks? I wonder since I now have a mixed-breed that doesn't react to storms or to far-off gun shots but I don't want to wait until 4th of July celebrations to find out that he's off-the-charts sensitive to fireworks.
Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 3:02 a.m.
RunsWithScissors: Aww, that is so hard. I'm so sorry. Noise and storm phobias are according to a 2001 study, by Tufts University (albeit small) certain breeds have an above average risk of developing noise phobias. These include some of the working and sporting breeds such as Collies, German Shepherds, Beagles, and Bassett Hounds. Yes, most dogs who have trouble with storms are also afraid of gun-shots, fireworks, etc. To assist a dog who is uneasy with other loud noises like this, the suggestions to alleviate their physical and emotional discomfort would be treated the same. I'm going to post an interesting link about the link between bathrooms, dogs and storms. Thanks for your question!
Wed, Apr 27, 2011 : 7:21 p.m.
Our dog, Bosco, likes to do what we call 'toilet wrap' -wrapping himself between the toilet and wall- when a storm hits. Occasionally he gets in the tub. Whatever...
Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 12:22 a.m.
Philip - Poor Bosco! That's a very common thing for dogs to do. I'm going to post something soon on that. It's going to be a rough few days...
Wed, Apr 27, 2011 : 5:33 p.m.
I had a dog that went right into the basement when it clouded up or he heard rain on the siding. Oh, and he tried to wedge himself under the washing machine.
Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 12:20 a.m.
Not surprising, treetowncartel! I'm going to post some interesting info about that.
Wed, Apr 27, 2011 : 4:39 p.m.
I wonder how many other people have dogs who seek comfort in the bathroom, laying up against the tub ? Our houndy-mix likes to do that and I have known a few other dogs over the years. Thanks for the helpful tips Lorrie !
Thu, Apr 28, 2011 : 12:19 a.m.
I've head the same thing a lot, too John. A lot of dogs evidently do the same thing. If I arrive to care for a client and it's raining/storming, I know where to look!