How to help a dog afraid of thunderstorms

McClatchy Newspapers

Does your dog become scared, anxious or generally stressed out when a thunderstorm hits?

Many dogs truly suffer in the fall and winter, when their sensitive ears pick up the occasional sound of thunder.

Some signs that your dog is stressed include trembling or shaking, excessive salivation, hiding, barking or squealing, looking about with wide "saucer" eyes, and many others.

Why consider this troubling behavior when the weather is still warm, and the sun is shining? Because if your dog is one of those who suffer during thunderstorms, you can do something about it, but you must begin before the weather changes.

One approach that can work very well is gradual sound desensitization.

Basically, you expose your dog frequently to the sound of thunder — at an extremely low level at first — and pair the sound with something pleasurable, like a belly rub, a meal, a game of tug-of-war or snuggle time in your lap. Over time, as your dog grows accustomed to the distant sound of thunder, you gradually increase the sound level.

Fortunately, you can accomplish this without being particularly adept at forecasting the weather; there are CDs available with nothing but the sound of thunder for this exact purpose.

If you are diligent in desensitizing your dog in this manner, then by the time a real thunderstorm arrives, your dog may consider the noise as something he routinely hears, and doesn't become bothered by it.

Another great product is the Thundershirt, so named for its effective use on stressed-out dogs, particularly during a thunderstorm.

Many experts believe that pressure applied to the body has a calming effect on the nervous system. The shirt fits snugly on the dog with numerous Velcro straps, providing gentle but firm pressure around the torso. The beauty of this product is the dramatic results that can often be seen instantly.

If you suspect a storm is on the way, place the Thundershirt on your dog ahead of time. Even if the weather catches you off guard, and your dog becomes stressed, you can put on the Thundershirt and often watch your dog relax within a few minutes. Usually, just the comforting pressure of the shirt relieves the stress — no training required.

In my experience, dogs that have a long history of becoming stressed during car rides, when left alone or during thunderstorms can greatly benefit from wearing a Thundershirt in addition to some general desensitization work on whatever stresses them.

It's not necessary to worry over or pity your frightened pooch in these situations, or to administer drugs, which don't address the cause of the dog's stress or provide any long-term relief.

Seek out a professional for guidance, act before the stormy weather hits and prepare your dog in every way you can, naturally, to lose the fear and remain relaxed and happy this fall and winter.


(Lisa Moore's pet-behavior column appears once a month on the Weekly Pet Page. Write to her in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto, Calif. 95352.)


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