For dogs with a fear of thunderstorms, spring and summer can be very trying times. Fear reactions can range from a mild case of nerves and unease to a case of sheer panic. Conventional options tend to rely on sedatives or antianxiety medications to get the dog through the storm. In theory, this is a great solution, but problems tend to arise this time of the year when storms are predicted every day and when they sometimes pop up without warning. These medications generally need some time to enter the system before they are effective and often by the time this happens the storm has passed.
Storm phobias are very difficult to treat behaviorally. It is all but impossible to actively simulate a storm. The rain, lightning, thunder and barometric changes can all be triggers for the dog’s fear. For some dogs with mild issues, positive conditioning can be effective. Every time it storms, you get out a very special treat which is given regularly for the duration of the storm thus conditioning the dog to associate the storm with treats and pleasure. A rawhide bone or kong, squeaky toy or ball can often be used similarly. For dogs with more severe fear issues, this is unlikely to make much of an impression. Even so, you want to try to provide any comfort you can.
Be sure that your demeanor does not heighten the feeling of panic. If you get tense over the expected reaction from your companion, they will not only pick up on this but feed off of it. Try to remain calm. Take deep breaths. Close curtains or go to an internal room to try to avoid experiencing the flashes of lightning and dampen the sounds of thunder as much as possible. Turn on some white noise or soothing music. Finally, watch that the attention you are giving to your pet is not reinforcing the behaviors. Be supportive and attentive but do not reinforce the belief that something bad is happening. Let your dog know that there is nothing to be worried about.
Many dogs seem to find comfort in a tight space. Bathtubs are a favorite refuge. They are seeking the security that a small or covered space can offer. For many dogs, you can provide comfort by putting them in a tight shirt or leotard, providing the sensation of being wrapped and protected. There are commercial variations on this theme. Many have magnetic properties or other special features which set them apart. What they generally have in common is that they are expensive. I generally recommend that owners start by putting an old shirt on the dog. You can snug it tight with rubber-bands and see if this helps calm the fears. If this provides some relief, you can feel more confident that the purchase of an anxiety wrap will be of benefit to you. I have many clients who just continue with a shirt and others who try the commercial products. For those who buy, there are a percentage who seem to improve further and then of course there are others who did as well with the shirt. I used to be surprised by the effectiveness of such a simple concept until I thought about the difference in laying down yourself with no covers or blankets- it is a feeling of exposure- which goes away quickly and irrationally if you just pull up a sheet.
For dogs who need more support than this, I recommend we begin trying a variety of natural remedies to determine how to best support the particular dog.
The DAP diffuser releases a canine calming pheromone into the air. It plugs into a standard outlet, and for some dogs it does provide relief. Plug it into an area where the dog would be comfortable. There are no negative side effects from this product and thus it is definitely worth a try.
Homeopathic remedies can also offer some relief and have the advantage of generally being fast acting. Phosphorous in the strength of 30c can be dosed to be absorbed in the dogs mouth every 15 minutes until you see an effect. You can re-dose if you see the fear returning. The standard pill size that you find in health food stores is meant to be placed under a person’s tongue and held in the mouth. Since this is not practical for dogs, I find it best to crush the pill and then dump the powder into the dog’s mouth. This is best done without touching the pellet as homeopathy is energy medicine. All organic beings have their own energy and it is possible that you will make the remedy less effective by transferring your energy to it.
If the Phosphorous remedy doesn’t work, try Aconitum Napellus 30c for the next storm. Homeopathy will generally either work or not. Side effects or negative effects are generally not noted.
Flower essences are dilutions from botanicals used to treat a wide variety of emotional disturbances. Remedies need to be matched to the patient and can be mixed together. Again, this class of remedy should have no side effects. Rescue remedy or Five flower essence (depending on the company you use) is generally a good starting remedy to check for effect. Single remedies which are often helpful in thunderstorm fears include Rock Rose which works for terror and panic or Mimulus which is for fear of known things. You can dose these directly in the mouth or mix with water to administer. I generally use 2-6 drops to make up a dose, administered directly into the dog’s mouth. You can also add 5 drops or so to the dog’s drinking water two to three times daily to give some low level effect through thunderstorm season. Dose directly as needed in addition to this. The dosage in the water should be safe for all pets in the household.
If these measures do not help, some people do have to resort to prescription medications and for some dogs, these will prove effective. Be sure to check with your veterinarian before trying any of these remedies to be sure that they should be safe for your particular pet.