It’s thunderstorm season. While I’ve read that 20 percent of dogs are thunder-phobic, the number may actually be higher, as it doesn’t include people who have never sought treatment for their thunder-phobic dogs. People with thunder-phobic dogs know that it is no small problem. It doesn’t go away by itself, and left untreated, it only seems to get worse with age.
Symptoms of canine thunder-phobia include destruction, anxiousness, pacing and panting, hyperactivity, and crawling into a confined space, such as a bathtub or under the bed. The fear is often completely irrational. In most cases, nothing “bad” has ever happened to the dog during a thunderstorm. It’s more about a fear of what could happen. A dog with a severe thunderstorm phobia appears to think the world is coming to an end. Some people worry that their panic-stricken dogs are going to have a heart attack. To make matters worse, people often feel helpless and panic-stricken themselves when they don’t know how to help their dogs.
Six Holistic Ways to Calm your Thunder-Phobic Dog:
1) Confined Spaces: Allow them to go into a confined space, if they desire. If they are most comfortable in the bathtub, their crate, under the bed, or in a closet, allow them to be in that space. The space they retreat to may also be a quieter space that helps them minimize the sounds of the thunderstorm.
2) Counter Classical Conditioning: The idea is to pair something that your dog absolutely loves with the thing that they are afraid of. Timing is of great importance, because it’s important to start this before your dog’s anxiety is built up too much. When he is just sensing a storm approaching and starts to show mild signs of anxiety, make chicken fall from the sky, or take out his favorite toy for a fun game of play. If your dog is food motivated, this is a good time to have some very high value reward that he goes bonkers over. If you wait until your dog is already extremely panic-stricken, this probably won’t work. But, if you can keep his focus on the treats or toys, when the sounds get louder, rewarding just after a loud thunder boom with the high value reward could be very beneficial. Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., CAAB, has more detailed information on counter classical conditioning here.
Next: Using Sensory Integration to Calm Canines