The atmospheric pressure drops, there is a low rumble in the distance, the wind picks up and there is a smell of ozone in the air. By now, long before we can detect it, your dog becomes clingy, trembles like jelly, paces restlessly, pants, and tries to hide or, in extreme cases, completely panics and attempts to escape.
If your dog is fearful of storms, he or she is exhibiting one of the most common phobias that affect dogs. Dogs also react to fireworks, explosive noises, hot-air balloons and many other noises that are part of a dog’s life in a human environment.
If your dog is sensitive to thunderstorms, the nine point plan below will help.
1. Predict the problem - you can’t always predict when a storm is coming (unlike fireworks) but a change in pressure or wind can be terrifying predictors for your dog. Keep an eye on the weather map, and your dog, and take action before the storm begins.
2. Be home with your dog if you can.
3. Bring your dog inside - dogs left outside will attempt to escape from your yard or 'inscape' into your house. While the damage to your fences and your home can be extreme and costly, it's the damage your dog could do to itself that is dangerous.
4. Place your dog in a sound-proof den - the most sound-proof and den-like room in your house is one that has solid walls and no windows to the outside e.g. a walk-in wardrobe, bathroom. Pull the blinds or curtains to minimise noise and lightning flashes.
5. Use masking noise – add other noise like music, the radio or TV to mask the noise of the storm.
6. Use Pheromones – Adaptil (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) can be very effective for calming noise-fearful dogs with up to 70% effectiveness. A plug-in diffuser works very well in the dog’s den.
7. Practice calming strategies – when your dog is panicking, it needs to develop a calm demeanour. Thus, your job is to do whatever you need to do to create calmness e.g. talk gently to your dog, hug your dog firmly, use calming massage, distract your dog with games, training exercises or toys and stay calm yourself.
8. Use medication where needed - if your dog is seriously affected, your vet will be able to prescribe certain anti-anxiety medications that may help. Tranquilisers are not helpful as they can actually make dogs more sensitive to noises. You need to test the dose needed beforehand to see what dose is effective, how long it takes to work and how long it lasts so please talk to your veterinarian before any more storms or fireworks are predicted. Homeopathic medications and thundershirts (tight wraps) may also be helpful for some dogs.
9. Sometimes you can teach your dog to tolerate storm or fireworks noises using recordings through a process of gradual desensitisation and counter-conditioning.
Remember, noise fears are serious. They don’t resolve on their own and a panicking dog may put itself in danger. Solving noise fears can be very difficult, so please get some help from your veterinarian or behaviourist.