Thunderstorm phobia can be dangerous – it is quite common for dogs to run away and onto roads in a panicked state. Dogs which are tied up (in an attempt to stop them running away) can hang themselves trying to escape. The good news is that if your dog is frightened of thunderstorms, there are many things you can do to help.
Before the storm:
Medications can make a big difference to the anxiety experienced by your dog. Anxious dogs typically pant, tremble, hide, pace, cry and can be destructive in an attempt to escape the storm. These medications (available on prescription from your veterinarian) are best given before the storm hits, remembering that dogs often hear, smell and feel a storm coming before we can. These medications reduce the build up of anxiety before and during the storm, reducing the fear your dog experiences
Keep your dog safe. If a storm is forecast make sure your dog is kept indoors – preferably with access to a sound-proof “den” with other background noise to help drown out the storm. Dogs left outside are more likely to run away, get run over or injure themselves in an attempt to escape
During the storm
Be home with your dog. Noise phobia is much worse on your own and many dogs with separation anxiety are also scared of thunderstorms. If at all possible arrange to be home with your dogs if storms are predicted.
Keep your dog inside in the most sound-proof area of the house and create a safe, sound-proof den where your dog can hide. This removes your dog from the sight, smell and feel of the storm. Playing background noise/music and sound proofing the den as much as possible reduces the impact of the noise. The use of Dog Appeasing Pheromone (available as a collar or dispenser) reduces anxiety and makes the den a “safe place” for your dog.
Calm your dog and show your dog that you are calm. Speak in a soft and steady voice and use gentle rhythmic patting/massage. Cradle your dog’s head in your hands and make him look at you – blink slowly as if you were falling asleep. Some people inadvertently make their dog more fearful by being anxious about their dog’s distress – watch your tone of voice and mannerisms and slow everything down.
Storm phobia can be “cured”
With consistency and time it is possible to teach your dog to tolerate storms. A “Frightful Noises” CD can be used to desensitise your dog to storm noises. The CD and instructions are available from veterinary behaviouralist Dr Cam Day at www.pethealth.com.au
Storm phobia is distressing for both dogs and their owners and there are many ways your veterinarian can help you solve this serious problem.