Yes, this picture is Buddy and Shiloh assuming the Thunderstorm Position in our house. Now just imagine this scene enhanced at 1:00 a.m. with 2 adults in the bed who were sleeping soundly. Ahhhhhh, it’s Spring and the flowers are blooming and the weather is warm and it just feels good to be outside again. There is one downside… Thunderstorms. Any of us who have dogs who suffer from thunderstorm anxiety know how much we dread that first rumble.
Thunderstorm anxiety can be mild; trembling, hiding under the bed or in the tub or shower. Thunderstorm anxiety can also be a lot more dramatic though; soiling in the house, destroying the furniture, crashing through walls and digging in an effort to flee their fear. Particularly in this situation you must take control for your dog’s safety and for the sake of your home.
Next time a storm is brewing, try engaging your dog in one of his or her favorite activities. This can help your dog associate having fun with the approach of a storm and keep him or her distracted rather than focusing on fear. If fear does override fun at some point, see if your dog can find a safe place in the house where he or she is comfortable and reward her for going there. Many dogs like to go to the tub, or the shower or into a crate that is draped with a blanket to block out lightning. It is a good idea to put a portable fan near the safe place for “white noise” to drown out thunder and crank up some soothing music on the stereo. If your dog does not choose a safe place, try creating one for him or her.
Remain neutral when dealing with your dog. It is tempting to drop to your knees and just hug and kiss your dog and go on and on about how it will all be ok. This often serves to reinforce the fear reaction and tells the dog that this really is a scary experience so we better always hunker down when this happens. Hopefully it needs not be said, but never punish your dog for any fear behavior.
So what do you do if you try all of this and still have a dog that dissolves into puddles when a storm approaches? There are some natural therapies available to start with.
Melatonin, which is sold over the counter and used by humans for insomnia, has had particular
success in calming canines without putting them to sleep. Most articles noted a dosage of 3mg for an average size dog and a dose is effective for a few hours so may be administered well before a storm.
Flower Essences, most notably Rescue Remedy or Calming Essence can actually foster emotional healing without causing side effects.
Music Therapy, particularly the tones in harp music, seems to speak to and calm some dogs. Can’t hurt the dog parent too much either…
Tellington Touch Body Wrap: The Tellington Touch is a gentle approach using massage therapy to influence your dog’s behavior that started with horses. Massaging their ears can be very calming during a storm. Another method that has enjoyed substantial success is the body wrap. Linda Tellington-Jones demonstrates it in her book: Getting in TTouch with your Dog, and it involves wrapping cloth around your dog in a particular fashion to give him or her a sense of security and calm. This has had such success that there are now many sites online that sell Anxiety Wraps or Thunder Shirts for dogs that are easy to slip on to your dog and give them a remarkable sense of security.
If all of this fails, don’t give up yet! Give your vet a call and have a good talk. There are some pharmaceutical remedies available that might just do the trick or that are longer lasting for those of you who work all day and need something you can administer in the morning when storms are predicted. Hang in there, we all have our quirks. You stand by your dog on this one and you are a good human. I bet you still can’t count how many times your dog has had your back!