Pets
8:45 am
Sat March 1, 2014

Dogs Afraid of Thunder

Spanky is calm in his Thundershirt!
Credit DiamondBonz [Flickr]

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Does your pet become anxious in response to loud noises (like thunderstorms)?  Most animal experts recommend not cuddling and hugging an anxious pet lest you reinforce the negative response.  So what's a caring pet owner supposed to do with a cowering, trembling furry friend who is obviously afraid of the noise?

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Last week as it rained I heard the thunder echoing through the heavens. When I was growing up I had a little dog named Scamp who, when it thundered, would follow me around the house so closely that frequently his nose would bump into the back of my leg. If I stopped moving, he would sit on my foot so that if I started moving again he would know it. As the storms roll in, and the thunder and lightning begin, does your dog become nervous and upset?

Loud noises, like thunder, frighten many dogs. Scientists aren’t sure what causes some dogs to pant, tremble, hide, even panic, at such times. Puppies who react adversely to thunder are unlikely to outgrow it.

Some animal experts recommend a technique called behavior modification, using recordings of whatever noise frightens the dog to “desensitize” the animal. The volume is gradually increased from very soft to very loud over an extended period of time, while you play with your dog, give it treats and generally distract it from the sound it fears. It is a lengthy, tedious process, but one that seems to have worked well for owners who are willing to invest a lot of time and energy in retraining their dogs.

If you can’t afford all that time and energy right now, there are other temporary ways to deal with your dog’s reaction to thunderstorms. Find a place away from windows where your pet feels safe, and put the animal there. Don’t use a cage unless your pet normally feels safe in its cage. Otherwise, it may hurt itself trying to get out. A place that has some sound insulation might make your pet feel less nervous during the storm.

If all else fails and your dog is truly panicked by storms, ask your veterinarian about using a mild tranquilizer to help your pet stay calm. Just realize that none of these temporary approaches will reduce your pet’s fear.

Or, you might want to try a product called the Thundershirt. It’s designed to fit your pet snugly, and keep it calm. Owners who have used Thundershirts say they are surprisingly effective. You can find them at many pet supply stores and online.

Just remember that the key to dealing with a noise-sensitive dog is patience, an important quality for all of us humans to have, anytime you’re speaking of pets.

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