Helping Dogs with Thunderstorm Phobias

Dianna Stearns, CPDT-KA, CDBC, CATT

Winter is coming; with rain or hail in the fall and snow in the winter. Here in Colorado, we even have “thundersnow”; upper-level snow storms with thunder, but no rain. Many dogs have adverse reactions to sudden thunderstorms, and show a wide range of fear-based behaviors. Often dogs will seek out places where there are “grounding” objects to feel safe. Many years ago, my smart Lab/Golden retriever mix, Pepper, could always be found in the bathtub during thunderstorms. Sure enough, the iron in the bathtub would discharge any electrical currents in the air.

Like all training and behavior problems, there is no “one-size fits all”. Since each dog is a unique individual (and we never know when a thunderstorm might pop up), it’s best to have several calming aids on hand, and experiment to see which one is most effective with your dog.

Some owners have found that putting peppermint oil on the pads of their dog’s feet has a calming effect. Thunder-phobic dogs may also find relief with dosages of melatonin. Consult your veterinarian for exact dosages before giving anything over-the counter medications to your dog, but it’s usually recommended that 3 mg. be given to dogs up to 25-75 lbs, and 5 mg. for big dogs over 75 lbs. Other clients have used Bach’s Rescue Remedy in the dog’s water, or on food, with success.

Most trainers try to work with the dog ahead of thunderstorm season, desensitizing the dog to the sound of approaching storms by using CDs of thunderstorms and lots of positive-reinforcement, in the form of treats and extra special attention. For more severe cases, owners may need to consult their Vet for prescription anti-anxiety drugs, such as Xanax. It’s fast acting, and doesn’t stay in the system long, so your dog doesn’t stay groggy.

Three commercial products which have shown to be useful are the Storm Defender Cape, the Thundershirt and the Anxiety Wrap. The cape makes the dog look like a super hero, but the lining discharges any static electricity that builds up in the fur and helps to calm the dog. Since there’s a 3-storm, money-back guarantee, there’s really no risk in trying it: www.stormdefender.com.

The Thundershirt and the Anxiety Wrap are both products that grew out of research with autistic children, and calms the dog much like swaddling a baby. The Thundershirt is made of washable fleece-type material with a double-wrap Velcro closing . it can be found at most large pet retailers or at www.thundershirt.com . The Anxiety Wrap is made of neoprene-like material, it holds the dog snugly, to help it feel contained and safe. It can be ordered at www.anxietywrap.com.

 

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