Stormy Weather – Or, Dogs Behaving Badly During Storms and 4th of July

Stormy Weather – Or, Dogs Behaving Badly During Storms and 4th of July

June is typically the start of storm season in many parts of the country. Statistically, the number of dogs dropped off at animal shelters rises closest after a thunder storm, possibly because owners are ill equipped to deal with pets who are traumatized by thunder and lightening. In this article, I discuss causes and solutions for dogs who react badly to storms and loud sounds like firecrackers.

According to Dr. Nancy Dreschel, a veterinarian who conducted a study on storm anxiety in dogs, 15% to 30% of dogs are affected by fear of thunderstorms; The Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association also reported that herding dogs, such as Collies and German Shepherds, and hounds, such as Beagles and Basset Hounds, seem to be more likely to develop a storm phobia than other dogs. The phobia is also shared in sporting and working breeds.

The study indicates that this inclination may be explained in terms of the dogs’ genetics. For example, herding dogs have been bred to react quickly to stimuli, such as a calf wandering away from the herd, but not to be aggressive. It could be that herding dogs have a strong reaction to the startling noises and flashes of a storm, but they repress any aggressive response to it causing anxiety.Shelter dogs seem to have a higher incidence of storm phobia, perhaps due to insecure feelings or past scary experiences. Dogs who have separation anxiety are also more likely to have noise and thunderstorm phobias.

But can a fear of storms be more environmentally related than we realize? Storms cause a change in air pressure which may be painful to a dog’s ears. A terrific guide to understanding the importance of sound to your dog’s being is the book, “by a Dog’s Ear.” Electricity in the air may also be a major factor in dog storm phobia in addition as the change in the smell of the air that a dog with his acute sense of smell detects.

Might storms be already scarier to a dog who has been trained with an electronic collar, or frightened by a static shock in everyday life? There are more questions about the effect of electricity on dogs than we have answers but addressing the problem is in the best interest of both dog and owner since a fear of storms could become a phobia leading to a fear of anything associated with storms: the sound of firecrackers, gunshots, and already the sound of birds.

So what are the best ways to deal with a dog who has a fear of storm? In the following paragraphs I’ll toss out a whole range of ideas; Consider which ones sound like they could work for your dog, your lifestyle, and as always, discuss your options with your dog’s veterinarian.

A Penn State study of purebreds and mixed breeds measured cortisol levels, a stress hormone, in storm phobic dogs and it was found that dogs in multiple-dog households were less fearful than dogs in one-dog households. So maybe you might want to add another dog to your home.

Your own behavior is basic in helping a storm phobic dog; If you yourself are nervous during a storm, this can move to your dog. keep upbeat and in charge. Never yell at, punish, or try to restrain a terrified dog – it never helps and only increases his terror. Neither should you comfort the dog because she will interpret this as confirmation that there really is something to be afraid of. The petting or comforting is really positive reinforcement of an undesirable behavior and already a benign, “That’s ok” may give the wrong signal.

Changing the dog’s ecosystem of during the storm (or 4th of July) can reduce the anxiety level or make the dog less aware of it. “White noise,” like a fan or air conditioner can help block out some noise, so can a TV or radio. Allowing the pet access to an area or room without outside walls or windows can decline noise level. Some pets seek out the safety of a bathtub or shower during a storm and some experts have hypothesized that a pet may feel less static electricity if they’re on tile or porcelain. Crating the dog may make the dog feel more obtain when he’s in a smaller space: Cover the crate with a blanket and leave the door open.

Harp music may also be an answer. That’s right – harp. Harp therapy has drawn the interest of veterinarians and animal behaviorists who believe that vibrations of harp strings send out overtones, some inaudible to the human ear.It’s suspected that the harmonic overtones work at a cellular level and reduce stress levels already in deaf animals who appear to relax when they feel the vibrations. Dogs must hear at the minimum three minutes of music for it to take effect. Contact me for more information on finding the kind of harp music that’s been effective with storm phobic dogs.

Another way to alter the dog’s ecosystem during a storm? Play! Depending on the dog’s anxiety level, sometimes simply distracting him may be the best course of action. Sing songs, play with toys that make sounds or speak, yawning repeatedly and make big, loud, exaggerated yawns that your dog will see and respond to. Exercise the dog as much as you can to try to use her out. Help your dog associate thunder with wonderful playtime!

Female dogs secrete pheromones that comfort nursing puppies and have a similar calming effect on adult dogs. Some believe that releasing these pheromones into a dog’s ecosystem calms him during a storm, so look into something called the DAP Dog Appeasing Pheromone Electric Diffuser which, as the name implies, diffuses this scent into the air at the right levels.

Hug Therapy includes “Body wrapping” that seems to calm and focus some eager and stressed dogs. Neurobiologists believe that trauma can damage nerve receptors, leading to exaggerated responses to stimuli. By applying regularly maintained pressure, a wrap provides a quieting stimulus that causes the receptors to adapt and modify their thresholds in a cumulative manner.A variety of techniques for “wrapping” a dog range from using T-shirts to elastic bandage wraps. Or, consider using the Anxiety Wrap — a strong, stretchy vest that hugs the torso like a body stocking and comes in a variety of sizes. This item is said to work so well that it’s been successfully used for separation anxiety, car-sickness, hyperactivity and many other behavioral quirks. Look for it on the Internet.

There’s a product called “Mutt Muffs,” a “head-band-that fits over-dog ears” that’s made of the same eosin foam used in high-end noise reducing commercial head sets.With a proper fit, a dog can’t shake it off. The ThunderBand works much the same way but includes dog “earplugs” and a cozy comforting head wrap. Both products work by incorporating “hug” therapy with noise reduction.

Some dog owners find that homeopathic remedies can be helpful such as Phosphorous PHUS 30C obtainable in health food stores. This is a natural compound used for fear of thunder or loud noises and typical protocol is to drop 3 to 5 pellets down the back of the dog’s throat (do not touch the pellets with your hand) every fifteen minutes until you start to see results. Then stop. If Phosphorous does not seem to work, during the next storm try Aconitum Napellus 30C and administer it in the same manner. Practitioners of homeopathy point out that a cure either will work or not, but it will not harm the dog or cause side effects. Either way, consult your vet.

Personally speaking, I’ve never found Flower remedies to be very effective at calming phobias or anxiety, but if you’d like to give it a try, Rescue cure, Calming Essence or Five Flower Formula would be where you’d start. Again, look on the Internet for Flower Essences.

An article in The Whole Dog Journal reports that one of the most effective treatments for thunderstorm phobia is melatonin, an over-the-counter hormone used by humans to treat insomnia.Melatonin is sold in capsules and tablets in health food stores, pharmacies and some supermarkets. It’s important to read the labels on melatonin bottles very carefully as some are mixed with herbs or nutrients that may not be safe for dogs. It may not be right for your dog is s/he has autoimmune disease or harsh liver or kidney disease and ALWAYS check with your veterinarian before giving any medication.

Our least favorite cure is also the only solution for some dogs: pharmaceutical medication, and it should NEVER be given without consulting your veterinarian. Two traditionally used tranquilizers are Acepromazine and Valium. “Ace” is classified as a major tranquilizer and is a very strong drug that at effective doses produces heavy sedation and incoordination. Valium, however, may not be strong enough to block harsh phobic responses and is so short acting that it may not be effective for afternoon thunderstorms when given in the morning by working owners.

One drug that seems to offer promising results in dogs with mild (not harsh) symptoms is Buspirone while the latest preferred medication is Clomipramine (Clomicalm) which has been approved by the FDA for treating separation anxiety in dogs. This is closely related to amitriptyline, a drug that has had advantageous results on thunder-phobic dogs. Other drugs to ask your vet about are:Alprazolam (Xanax),Amitriptyline(Elavil),Buspirone (Buspar),Clomipramine (Clomicalm),Clorazepate (Tranxene),Diazepam (Valium) ,Fluoxetine (Prozac),Inderal Paroxetine (Paxil) and

Tranxene-SD. Just remember: NEVER NEVER NEVER administer any medication without consulting your vet first. Did I say NEVER?

None of the aforementioned solutions will be of much help to you if your phobic dog is a show dog since you can’t very well drug him, wrap her in a t-shirt or play harp music to her in the show ring. And that’s why out of all the solutions I’ve mentioned consequently far, I feel that behavior alteration either by desensitization or counter-conditioning is the best long term solution for all dogs, be they show dogs or couch potatoes.

Desensitization is a course of action by which an anxiety producing stimulus, in this case thunder, is presented so subtly as to not produce a fearful response. Using a recording of the sound, say, thunder, very little by little the quantity of the sound but always keeping it below the fear producing threshold. Over time, the quantity is increased. You can find instructions on how to desensitize a dog on the Internet; Airedale owner, Dale Burrier, has also posted a fun approach to desensitizing a dog to using a paper bag. The Internet and high end pet shows are also where you’ll find CDs and audiotracks of shared noises such as thunder, firecrackers, trucks, wind, etc.

Counter conditioning is when a negative stimulus (firecrackers or thunderstorms) can become associated with a positive event. for example, the only time the pet gets his most favorite treat, game, or toy, is just prior to and during a thunderstorm.

Together, you and your dog can get by storm phobia as long as you have patience and compassion to find the best approach for your dog.

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