Some 20% to 30% or more dogs become fearful during thunderstorms. From trembling, panting, restlessness and sometimes whining to digging at the floor, doors, beds, running through the house or paralyzed with fear, most thunder phobic dogs turn to their owners for support when they cannot cope or understand the distress.
Fear of thunderstorms (as well as other loud noises such as fireworks and gunshots), is called noise phobia. It is important to remember that every pet is different and it is about learning what works for him/her.
The first thing to do is attempt to limit the noise as much as is possible – in theory – limiting the phobia. Close the curtains to limit the flashes of bright lightening that accompany the thunder. Turn on the television or radio in the room with the dog to help mask the claps of thunder if possible.
It is very important you remain calm and act normally around the dog. It best to not make a fuss over him/her and try to coddle them as this often causes the dog to believe that if you are that upset about the noise then it really must be as terrible as he/she thinks it is. The calmer you are and more you ignore the the dog’s reaction to the noise, the better your calm attitude will be reassurance to the dog that all is not as bad as he/she thinks it is. Dogs can sense and smell when we are nervous or frightened and their sensing our own anxiety only tends to reinforce their own anxieties. By ignoring the storm and carrying on with normal activities and even distracting the dog with a game or favorite toy if possible, often helps some dogs begin to understand that the storm is no big deal.
Meanwhile, desensitizing your dog to the noise of thunder can also prove effective.
By slowly exposing your him/her to sound of thunder (and other loud noises if they are fearful of them as well), and making sure that something good always follows, can help to not only reduce your dog’s noise sensitivity but in many cases – cure it. There are storm audio CDs available that are very effective in introducing your pet to the noise. Always start with the volume turned down all the way down. A dog can sense sounds at four times the distance of a human and will often become anxious and fearful before you even know there is a storm coming. They can hear and sense it way before we can.
Compared to humans, who can hear frequencies between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz, dogs can hear sounds between 67 Hz and 45,000 to 60,000 Hz, depending on breed. This means healthy dogs can hear higher frequencies than humans. Dogs can hear the heartbeat of a rabbit or the peep of a mouse.
So starting at lowest volume, gradually increase the volume each day until it’s at a normal level. Pacing is critical. Increasing the volume too quickly — before your dog begins to behave in a calm manner while the CD is playing on low — will almost guarantee a relapse. When your dog is not responding to the sound in a fearful manner, reward the dog with a treat or by playing his/her favorite game. Next day or later that day play the CD again starting on the lowest volume while treating and/or playing, then turn the volume up just barely continuing to treat and/or play with the dog. Again, only increase the volume very slowly and only by one or two levels per day.
On average, it should take three to four weeks to desensitize your dog.
Natural remedies can be used before and or during a desensitization session to put the dog in a calm state for the session. If there happens to be a storm before you have your dog desensitised, the use of homeopathic, herbal, flower essences or essential oils are also wonderfully effective yet perfectly safe in helping to calm pets during a storm. In fact, if you know you are due to have thunderstorms use the calming remedy prior to the storm getting too close.
I’ll talk about the use of essential oils for calming and relieving anxiety during Thunderstorms as well as several other effective naturopathic remedies over the next couple of weeks.