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Does your dog have a fear of thunder?

Fear of thunder and other loud noises is a common problem in dogs. No one really knows why some pets become afraid of noises and some don't. Dogs can easily develop these terrible sound sensitivities which tend to get worse the older the dog gets.



Left untreated the fear of loud noises can easily turn into a phobia (an excessive, persistent and irrational fear response to stimuli).

The good news is that these fear-related problems can be successfully resolved with the right training and lots of patience.

Newfie

A small recent study has found that certain dog breeds are more prone to developing noise phobias than other breeds. Many of these dog breeds at risk include breeds such as: German Shepherds, Collies, Beagles, and Basset Hounds.

Please realize that more research needs to be done in the area of fear of thunder since this particular single study was pretty small overall. This study did have another interesting finding: that dogs suffering from separation anxiety were also more likely to have noise and thunderstorm phobias.

What are the typical signs of a noise phobia,
such as a fear of thunder?

Individual pets may display their particular signs of noise phobias in various ways such as:

Panting, pacing, drooling, chewing, trembling or shaking, expressing anal glands, barking, urinating/defecating, trying to escape or hide.

Concerning thunder and thunderstorms, dogs may possibly be fearful of other storm-associated trigger events such as: lightning, loud rain, static in the air, a change in barometric pressure, smells associated with thunder storms, ionic changes, and many other things we are are not even aware of.

Another thing to consider is the owner's own attitude during the storm. You should act as if absolutely nothing unusual is happening. If the actual owner is also nervous during storms their pets pick up on this and can have a stronger fearful reaction than if the owner were actually calm during the storm. This one thing alone can easily influence the severity of the dogs fear during the storm event.

How are thunder phobias treated?

First and foremost, remember to refrain from giving any kinds of rewards or punishments. This is probably the most important thing to follow through with if your dog has a fear of thunder. Petting or comforting a thunder phobic fearful pet during a storm is really positive reinforcement of an undesirable behavior.

If you try to console the pet during the storm it may potentially signal the dog that the storm really is actually something he should really be afraid of - just the exact opposite of what you want the pet to really feel!

Don't ignore your fearful dog either - just the fearful behavior. If your dog comes to you, let it share your company, but don't baby her while she's with you. Don't punish the pet for showing fear but don't reward it either. Doing either will probably only increase his current anxiety level.

What else can be done for a dog with a fear of thunder? Three of the most used options are various medications, changing the dogs actual environment, and behavior modification therapies.

Medications: These can be given individually or in various combinations. If your pet has a problem with thunder storms please consult with your veterinarian for his medication suggestions and dosage recommendations. Your veterinarian will probably suggest you treat your dog with some kind of tranquilizer. Keep in mind, these medications need to be given hours before the storm is predicted to happen.

Alternative therapies, natural herbal mixtures, are often recommended such as Rescue Remedy. Another I have heard of used by an AKC judge is Peppermint Oil which can be purchased from any health food store. Put a drop or two of oil on the bottom of each foot, right on the individual pad a few hours before the storm is to happen. Like anything else, sometimes these work, sometimes they donít on particular individual animals. Personally I use Canine Lesstress for Dog Anxiety.

Change the dogs environment: Changing the dogs environment can hopefully reduce the volume level of the storms sound and help make the pet less aware of what is going on. A few things you can do are:

turn on some soothing music or the TV to mask the storm noises until the storm has past,
rub your dogs coat with a fabric softener dryer sheet to decrease the static in it's coat,
cover windows so the dog can't see the lightning and other storm related activities,
keep your dog away from glass doors and windows,
keep outside gates locked and closed, and
don't confine your dog to a small space such as a crate (the scared dog could seriously injure itself if it were to try to escape).

Behavior modification therapies: There are a lot of special techniques used to help change the dog's overall response to the noise (in this case thunder). Counter conditioning is one way. Here the actual negative stimulus is associated with a positive event the pet enjoys. For example, the only time the dog gets his most favorite treat of all is just before a thunderstorm happens and during it.

Desensitization is another behavior modification method often used. In the case of thunder and noise phobias the dog is taught to be calm when the noise level is low, and then, over time, the noise level will be gradually increased.

An example of this would be to get a storm CD and play it in your home to get the dog used to the sounds over a long period of time, gradually increasing the volume while keeping your dog calm. This is a very slow process overall to be effective so be patient - you probably wonít know it is working until someday you simply realize that your dog isnít scared anymore.

Overall, it is important to be aware that fear of thunder and thunderstorms as well as other noise phobias are very common problems in dogs (and some cats). Medications, changing the pets environment and using various behavior modification therapy techniques are all helpful in reducing the dogs overall fear.

Talk with your veterinarian or a local animal behaviorist or trainer in your area if your dog shows signs of any kind of noise phobia. These pet professionals can help you develop a treatment plan for your own individual pet to help it overcome it's Fear of thunder or at least to deal with it in a more comfortable fashion for you both.

Return from Fear of Thunder to Obedience Exerise Requirements

"A professor must have a theory as a dog must have fleas." -- H L Mencken, Quoted by Geoffrey H Hartman