Many dogs are afraid of thunderstorms. Their anxiety may range from mild panting to obsessive pacing, to howling, trying break in or out of their yards or even homes. Families lives are disrupted. Sometimes they forego going out to dinner. Some are having to stay up all night trying to soothe the hysterical pup. Some owners end up sleeping in closets with their faithful, terrified friends if they are to get any sleep at all.

There are a number of behavior tricks and aids as well as medication that, when used appropriately, can help.

First, set up a “Safe Zone” for your dog. Usually a cozy, snug place in the most sound proof area of your house works best. Often times, that is a closet or under a bed. It’s OK if your pet hides out during storms– it’s his natural way of coping. Give him a soft blanket and provide water in Safe place.

Distract your pet from the worries of storms by offering a favorite chew toy at the early onset of his anxiety. Toys that you can fill with different foods work great because you can switch up the interest level with different fillings. In hot weather, pre-fill the toys with lite cream cheese and keep in the freezer! Engaging your pet in a lively game of fetch or even some Basic Obedience training during storms (start before his brain shuts off in terror) gives you a chance to give him rewards for doing things that are easy and relaxing for him in the face of the scary noise. Over time, this will teach him that storms are not only “no big deal”, “My humans play with me during storms– ball time!”

Desensitization training starts long before the storm season. Turning on storm CD’s, quietly, in the home, when the true weather is sunny and pleasant will help desensitize your dog to the noise of storms (and fireworks and gunfire, etc). Gradually increase the volume as his anxiety level decreases. This will not help the dogs who’s fear is based on other storm factors, such as barometric pressure change, cloud cover, water falling from the sky, etc. But, it will help those with primarily noise phobias.

Calming masks are available through Premier Pet Products. These are caps that cover the eyes, that psychologically relax some dogs. Along the same line, many of my clients wrap their dog’s bodies with an Ace bandage– gently– don’t restrict the movement of the chest during breathing. This firm wrap seems to give them security when you aren’t there. This is only a choice for indoor dogs as it would be too hot for outdoor dogs in the summer. There are also neoprene body wraps available through your veterinarian (used to protect wounds from licking) that can be tried.

D.A.P, “Dog Appeasing Pheromone”, is a synthetic pheromone made to mimic the soothing hormones released around nursing mama dog’s bellies. As puppies nurse and move around on mama’s tummy, they stimulate the release of this hormone. Available in a fine mist spray, on an impregnated collar, or from a wall outlet diffuser, this pheromone can help some dogs relax. Buy a diffuser to put in an outlet in your dog’s Safe Zone. A collar around his neck can offer full time benefits for some dogs, while the mist can be sprayed on Calming Caps, body wraps or bedding.

For dogs whose anxiety levels are too high for the above tips and tricks, there are medications that can help. The old-fashioned treatment involved tranquilizers. Enough sedative to make the dogs go to sleep certainly reduced the signs of their anxiety, but more progressive behavioral specialists now agree that anti-anxiety medications that allow the dog to stay awake, but improve his coping skills are better. The best benefit is that they reduce the anxiety level to allow the dog to engage in Distraction techniques so they can learn that storms are not scary, hopefully allowing a reduction in their anxiety behaviors over time.

See your veterinarian if Behavior Modification tricks and tools aren’t enough for your Thunderstorm Phobic dog. It may take some time, trying different medications to find the right combination of behavior modification techniques and drugs that are just right for your dog, but there is light at the end of that dark closet full of panicked dog breath!

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