Seven Soothers for Storm Phobic Dogs

I recently taught a seminar in St. Petersburg, Florida. A friend told me St. Pete is the “lightning capital” of the country, and it’s not hard to believe. While I was there the weather forecast seemed to perpetually predict storms. Many dogs are thunderstorm phobic, and unfortunately, repeated exposure to storms does not allay the fear nor cure the phobia.

Many owners attempt to desensitize their dogs with CDs of recorded thunderstorms, and some are successful. But a storm is composed of many factors besides sound, and many dogs still tremble and worse when the thunder begins to roar. With that in mind, I’d like to share some ideas and products that may help.

1.  Allow your dog to take shelter. Your dog might feel safest in his crate, or he may seek refuge in the bathroom. Many dogs hunker down near the toilet or even in the bathtub, possibly because those spots are grounded via the plumbing. My boy Mojo preferred the bathtub during storms.

2.  Some people think it’s a bad idea to comfort dogs when they’re afraid. Others believe it helps. According to one study, neither comforting a storm phobic dog nor ignoring him had an effect either way. However, having another dog present did allow the frightened dog’s stress hormones to return to normal levels faster.Every dog is different, and reassuring a dog is a far cry from coddling him. While you shouldn’t scare your dog further by using a nervous tone of voice or mannerisms, if he feels better with you sitting by him, laying a comforting hand on him, or speaking in a soothing voice, do so. If you can round up another dog for company, even better.

3.  Many dogs feel more secure when swaddled—or as I like to think of it, wrapped up like a giant doggie burrito. An easy way to accomplish this is with a t-shirt. Make sure it fits your dog snugly, then gather the material at the top with a rubber band, avoiding placing the knot directly over the spine. You can also try a product such as the Anxiety Wrap or the Thundershirt. Whichever product you use, be sure to repeatedly place it on your dog and pair it with something he likes ahead of time so the wrap is not only associated with storms.

4.  Playing soothing music before your dog becomes frightened can help him to maintain his composure, or to at least be less nervous when the storm hits. The “Through a Dog’s Ear” CDs are psychoacoustically engineered to encourage a relaxation response from dogs, and are well worth a try. If you prefer to use music you already have on hand, choose simple classical music over, say, heavy metal. Introduce your dog to the music during relaxed periods far in advance of when it’s actually needed.

5.  The change in barometric pressure that accompanies thunderstorms can cause some dogs, especially long-haired ones, to become uncomfortable. That’s due to the static electricity being picked up in the coat. The Storm Defender cape guards against this phenomenon. As with the other solutions, acclimate the dog in a positive manner ahead of time.

6.  Melotonin is a natural hormone that regulates the biological clock. It’s not a sedative, but it can leave your dog feeling more relaxed about what’s happening in the environment. Doctors Nicholas Dodman and Linda Aronson have demonstrated good results when melotonin was administered to thunderstorm phobic dogs.

7.  If despite your best attempts at intervention your dog is still severely stressed during storms, speak with your veterinarian about a short-term sedative such as diazepam. Avoid acepromazine, as it can sedate the body but leave the mind spinning in fear.

If you’d like more in-depth explanations and information, refer to “Help for Your Fearful Dog.” In the meantime, these suggestions should provide a good start, and I hope they help your dog to be more comfortable when the next storm rolls in.

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4 Responses to Seven Soothers for Storm Phobic Dogs

  1. Don Gossett says:

    Congratulations on your new blog site! Thanks for all those tips for thunder-sensitive dogs. My malamute does have this problem and can become quite nervous while in the house during a thunderstorm, but if we are caught outside during one, it doesn’t seem to disturb her in the slightest. Having said that, I want you to know I totally agree with you that the dog should be provided shelter from the storm. I was curious if anyone else noticed a thunder-sensitive dog’s reaction inside versus outside. My guess is how the walls of the structure reverberate with the thunder causing additional fright to the dog.

  2. Marni says:

    Great tips! Living in Florida, I can attest to the intensity of the storms we get here! Don, my dog is storm phobic too. He is also much better outside than inside. Even in the car, he is fine. We’ve camped in a really bad storm once, the tent blowing down on top of us. I was a little worried but he slept thru the whole thing! Interestingly, when we had all those hurricanes come thru Gainesville a few years back, he was not that worried at all. Which makes me think it has something to do with the barometric pressure perhaps? If they could only talk….

  3. Lisa Spector says:

    Thanks for the fabulous tips Nicole. I also used to have a dog who retreated to the bathtub during storms. I wish I had all your helpful suggestions back then.

    Lisa Spector, Co-Creator Through a Dog’s Ear

    • wildewmn says:

      Thanks all for the comments and welcome. 🙂 Interesting that some dogs do better with thunderstorms when outdoors. I wonder if they just feel more confined in the house, unable to get away. Although like Marni’s dog I think many do better in the car than in the home. Could be past conditioning too, having been afraid in the home environment before.

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