Things That Go Ka-boom! in the Night
Due to the positive feedback that our ‘Tick Talk’ series generated, we opted to continue writing informative articles for your enjoyment! Due to the increasing number of storms we will see in the next few months today our discussion will center on thunderstorm phobias, although a lot of this information can be extrapolated to pets that fear fireworks, gun shots and other loud sudden noises.
It always amazes me how pets know a storm is coming far before we can detect the upcoming change in weather. There are several theories about why this is, the combination of wind, thunder, lightening, barometric changes, low frequency rumbles that the human ear can’t detect, and static electricity can combine to overwhelm some pets and they become fearful. The behavior of the owner will also directly affect the dog; some dogs learn to be afraid of storms because their owner reacts fearfully to them. Herding dogs (like collies) and dogs with separation anxiety are predisposed to having a storm phobia, and older pets will develop the phobia as the years pass, and it frequently gets worse as each stormy season passes.
There is no easy fix for situations like this, but we can certainly talk about some changes to be made that will make your pet less anxious, and may eventually train them to be calm when a storm does appear.
1. Reward calm behavior.
This is something that needs to be done year round, as the times when it’s not storming will be the easiest time to work on changing your pet’s emotional state about storms by teaching an alternative behavior. It is critical to not try to console a pet that’s frightened, vocalizing and climbing onto you, as that will encourage the fearful/panicky behavior. You also should not, under any circumstances scold your dog or punish them, as that will also increase their fear. When a pet is feeling anxious/fearful and receives a punishment they then think that they were correct to be fearful as something bad happened to them in the situation.
Instead, you want to teach your dog how to settle on command. One of the most effective ways to do this is to have an inside leash/tether that you use and then get your pet to lie down on a specified area like a rug, kennel or bed. It helps to have this placed in a location where your pet instinctively retreats to when it’s anxious. Then, praise the calm behavior, give treats for calm behavior, or consider using a food puzzle to keep the pet busy and calm in that location. By making this a habit when the weather is calm will give your pet the habit it needs to that when it is storming you can place your pet in the location it regularly spends calm time, and it will know the routine, which will help your dog settle. Your goal is to change how the pet feels about the storm. You want to replace the fear/anxiety with something positive (food and praise for appropriate behaviors).
2. Set up a place where your pet can find refuge when it is storming.
Note where your pet goes during periods of fear/anxiety and set them up a safe haven in that location. These areas often are the most successful in places like basements or bathrooms, as the pet can’t see/hear the storm as much. Allow the pet to come and go freely from the place of refuge, as locking them in can increase their anxiety. In the ‘safe place’ put a comfortable resting place, play Through a Dog’s Ear, classical music or use a white noise machine to decrease the sounds of the storm and cover any windows. This will reduce the stimulus and therefore the anxiety your pet feels.
Through a Dog’s Ear (http://throughadogsear.com/)
3. Use over the counter tools that help reduce anxiety.
There are many of these tools that have different levels of efficacy for individual pets.
a) Thundershirts – these are snug fitting shirts that have been shown to decrease anxiety, much like swaddling a baby. http://www.thundershirt.com/AnxietyResearch.aspx
b) DAP – this is a pheromone that has been shown to level out emotional moods and can decrease anxiety and the behaviors associated with anxiety. Your pet can wear it as a body heat activated collar, or it can be plugged in as a diffuser in your house. http://www.dapdiffuser.com/index.html
c) Zylkene – this is a casein tablet that has calming properties that promotes and enhances relaxed behavior.
d) Calm food – talk to your veterinarian about a specific food recommendation for your pet, as it’s not right for every pet. This food is research based and contains tryptophan and casein, both of which help to maintain emotional balance and enhance relaxed behavior.
Speak to a veterinarian about which of these options could be best for your individual situation, and often we recommend using more than one of these concurrently. It may take some trial and error to find out which works best for your pet as each one responds differently to the products.
You can play a CD of thunder recordings at low enough levels so it won’t frighten your dog, while giving him treats, a puzzle toy or playing a game. Over the course of several months you can gradually increase the volume, stopping if your dog shows any signs of anxiety. This sort of desensitization can have limited success because you can only recreate the noise, and not the other factors that may be bothering the dog, such as the static electricity or changes in barometric pressure, however it will help somewhat if done properly. The goal of desensitization in this manner is to replace the fear/anxiety your pet feels when hearing the sounds of a storm with a positive association.
Sound Proof Puppy Training App: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/sound-proof-puppy-training/id700513321?mt=8
In conclusion, there are many things that can and should be done for pets that have anxiety with loud/sudden noises. Make sure to contact your veterinarian about your specific situation so that a plan can be made for you and your pet. Don’t give up, it will take time and persistence, but you can help your pet feel more comfortable when things are going ka-boom! in the night!