September 23, 2009
Many dogs have a fear of thunderstorms (something my neck of the woods has had an abundance of lately). This fear can be mild or sometimes so severe it is crippling. Every season, many dogs end up in shelters and vet clinics after having escaped or injured themselves during a thunderstorm. The good news is, there are things you can do to help your dog relieve the stress he feels during these frightening events.
The first thing you must realize is that your dog's fears are not irrational. They are valid and must be treated as such. NEVER scold your dog for exhibiting the fear he feels. Do not try to force him to "deal" with or be near what frightens him (in this case - the loud noise). This can backfire and result in a worsening of the fear. Additionally, it is important to note that merely trying to prevent your dog from escaping or destroying things will not properly address the problem. Attending to the symptoms of the anxiety, rather than the anxiety itself can result in your dog increasing the intensity of it’s response or he may find another way to show his fears, such as digging, climbing, jumping, chewing, barking, howling, etc.
Create a safe and predictable environment for your dog. More-than-likely, he already has a place of comfort he likes to go to in order to feel safe during storms. Don't deny him this. However, don't confine him to this area, as this could cause more problems - especially for dogs who need to be "active" to deal with their anxiety. Let your dog come and go as he pleases.
While in the "safe" place, give your dog things that typically make him happy - such as a favorite, high-value food or favorite treats or bones. This can serve as a distraction initially, and eventually, your dog will begin to associate thunder storms with good things.
Dog-appeasing pheromones, which are similar to the pheromones released by nursing mother dogs can also reduce a dog's anxiety during thunderstorms. DogFancy recommends some common ones by Comfort Zone, manufactured by Farnam, and D.A.P., from CEVA Animal Health.
Unfortunately, some dogs are so deathly afraid of thunderstorms that they need meds to be able to cope. If your dog is one of these, consult your veterinarian so that he may prescribe some anti-anxiety drugs.