A lot of dogs are storm phobic – they are absolutely terrified of storms (the smell, the dark sky, the lightening, crashing thunder and rain).
Imagine being terrified of spiders or snakes and being surrounded by them! That’s how some dogs feel about storms. Storm phobia is a serious problem as pets can do a lot of damage to themselves (and their environment) trying to escape the storm.
Unfortunately, storms are part of Brisbane summer and although we can’t stop them we can find ways to help our pets cope.
1)Start becoming a weather guru – check out weather forecasts so you know if a storm is expected.
2)If possible be home with your dog or leave them with someone who is going to be home – a calm voice, a big hug, a massage can all go a long way to helping keep your pet calm.
3)Provide a sound proof den or “safe room” for your pet to hide in – ideally this is inside your house. The den should be somewhere quiet and secure with no vision to the outside world (i.e. close blinds) but leave the lights on so any bolts of lightning that show through windows coverings are not as obvious) e.g. a wardrobe or a crate with heavy blankets or a sheet of rubber/foam over and around it.
This den should be available 24/7 to your dog and it should always be associated with nice things (treats, a toy etc.). You should spend time with your dog in this area when it is not storming – it’s a great place to do the calming exercises discussed below. If inside you can also play music to try and mask the noise from outside (see calming strategies below). Antistatic bedding is also very helpful.
4)Pheromones – adaptil is a scent hormone which when breathed in helps reduce anxiety. The plug-in diffusers are made to be left on continuously for a month and should be placed in the den area. Collars are also available for outside dogs. Homeopathy drops can also help some dogs
5)A storm jacket (e.g. thunder shirt) or calming cap can also help some dogs
6)Anti-anxiety medications maybe necessary – It is important to find the right dose for your pet so these should be tried and tested on a non-storm day first – the aim is to relax not heavily sedate your pet.
7)Train calming exercises– this takes time but is very effective. You can train your pet to relax and associate this relaxed state with a smell (e.g. lavender, chamomile, an old sweat drenched t-shirt etc.), a blanket and/or a piece of soft music. Ttouch (see Ttouchaustralia.com.au) is a specific massage technique that helps some dogs. Repeat relaxation sessions frequently and preferably perform them in the “safe room”. Leave this scent/blanket / piece of music playing for your pet in the den / safe room on days a storm is predicated.
Counter conditioning: You can also try desensitising exercises once you have trained your pet to relax consistently but as many dogs react not just to the noise but also changes in atmospheric pressure, static electricity, storm smells etc. desensitisation is often not successful. If you want to try: buy a cd of storms (or tape one) and play it ONCE only at a decent volume to see if your pet reacts. If they react then you can use this recording to try and desensitise them (if they don’t react then this will not work!) – get them to relax and play the tape at very soft volumes at which they don’t react, repeat daily and slowly over weeks to months increase the volume (never increasing it to a volume at which they react) until they are content with it blasting away.
Storm phobias are a difficult problem to treat so if these simple tips are not working speak to your vet and consider referral to a veterinary behavioural specialist.