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If you're reading this you are quite probably either in the middle of a storm or one is about to hit and your dog is freaking out. So, what are some immediate actions that you can take to help your pet?
Create Somewhere Safe
Make sure your dog has somewhere safe to retreat to – a crate or den area, somewhere they like to go. If it’s under the bed or on the bed, that's fine. Try to block out the lightning flashes if possible as many dogs will react to these as they predict thunder. A cover over a cate is a great idea. If you do not have a crate a bathroom or laundry with small windows may be ideal, the tiles in these rooms may also help with preventing static electricity.
Eliminating Static Electricity
Research has shown that dogs sense the static charge build-up before a thunderstorm. Some people have reported they have used anti-static cloths to wipe over their dog during storms and had some success. You can also try anti-static spray.
Music has been shown to affect the nervous system. iCalmPet and Pet Acoustics uses psychoacoustic techniques that naturally trigger the relaxation or arousal response. Further research has helped us understand that classical music had a marked soothing effect on dogs in animal shelters. You can purchase specially designed CD’s, use classical radio or stream on Spotify for your pets that may help them during times of stress.
Pressure has also been shown to help reduce anxiety in dogs. A fitted t-shirt and/or gentle pressure from your hand can be used if your dog finds that comforting and they seek it out.
Does your dog love playing ball or tug or perhaps their favourite thing in the world is a bone to chew or filled Kong toy. Distraction from the noise can be a wonderful way to get your dog to refocus on something they enjoy doing. If your dog will eat, have a ‘sprinkle party’ where you scatter tiny pieces of food such as shredded cheese in a safe spot for your dog to find. Make it easy and only use high value treats during storms.
Thunder Shirts and Anxiety Wraps
These look like dog jackets and apply gently pressure to the body. Experts believe that pressure has a calming effect on the nervous system, possibly by releasing a calming hormone like endorphins. Using gentle pressure to relieve anxiety in people and animals has been a common practice for years. These can work well to settle some dogs and cats.
For mild or moderate cases of thunderstorm phobia, our approach is to use Classical Conditioning. This is a fancy phrase for pairing something your pet loves with a very mild or damped down version of what scares them. Your goal is to condition your dog to associate thunder with something he loves, so his emotional response to thunder is “woohoo!” rather than “oh no!”
You can simulate the thunder noises using recordings (see below).
For example, if your dog loves playing ball, when the storm is only just approaching, go outside and have a fun game.
There are some good sources available that have recordings of thunder and other scary noises that you can use. If you have a new puppy or young dog, you can use recorded sounds to desensitise them to scary sounds early. The Sound Proof Puppy Training App available to download from iTunes or Google Play is a great resource.
When to Get Professional Help
If your dog is experiencing severe thunderstorm phobia and is trying to escape or causing himself injury, please see a qualified Behaviour Veterinarian. Also, before starting any homeopathic or herbal remedies, please consult with your vet.
Dog Appeasing Pheromone (Adaptil) is a synthetic copy of the pheromone the lactating female dog produces when she is feeding puppies. It has been proven to help dogs in a range of challenging situations including thunderstorms. Feliway is the cat pheromone product. They can be purchased online or through your vet.
Herbal Remedies and Flower Essences
There are a number of calming remedies you can purchase that may help your dog during stressful times. Studies indicate that some smells have relaxing effects and can reduce anxiety, such as the diffusion of diluted essential oils of lavender or chamomile. Rescue Remedy is another option to try. Please check with your vet before using any herbal supplements especially if your dog is on any medications.
See a holistic vet or qualified naturopath for specific information on combinations of homeopathic products to help your pet during storms.
Natural products such as Zylkene may assist during storm season. Please ask your vet or you can purchase online.
TTouch and TTouch Body Wraps
Our very own Ros Taber is a TTouch practitioner and can help you with your dog by teaching you a series of specific touches and body wraps to use on your dog, especially when they are stressed or anxious. Contact us about attending a TTouch class today.
Good luck through the storm season and we hope some of these ideas help you and your pets. Contact us if you need further help!