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Dogs Who are Scared of Thunderstorms

Rooted in fear and anxiety, thunderstorm phobias in dogs can be difficult to deal with. Anxiolytic medications coupled with behavior modification techniques can help.

Reducing the Phobias, Fears and Anxiety Dogs Experience with Thunder

Rooted in fear and anxiety, thunderstorm phobias in dogs can be difficult to deal with. Anxiolytic medications coupled with behavior modification techniques can help.

In many dogs, thunderstorm phobias are accompanied by intense anxiety and fear. These thunderstorm phobias may be accompanied by property destruction or physical endangerment of the affected pet or the people around him.

Symptoms of Thunderstorm Phobias in Dogs

Symptoms seen with thunderstorm phobias are a result of the anxiety and fear experienced by these dogs. Symptoms seen are basically due to the dog being scared and may include:

  • panting
  • pacing
  • trembling
  • drooling
  • crying
  • remaining near the owner
  • destructive behavior
  • urinating or defecating indoors
  • self-trauma

Symptoms may range from mild to severe depending on the depth of the fear and anxiety experienced by the dog.

Medical Treatment for Thunderstorm Phobias in Dogs

Medical treatment for thunderstorm phobias is aimed at reducing the fear and anxiety associated with the thunderstorm phobia and making the dog less scared.

Anxiolytic medications are frequently used to reduce the level of fear and anxiety and can be very effective in making the dog less scared of the thunderstorm. Drugs commonly used include:

  • alprazolam
  • diazepam
  • clorazepate

These medications have the ability to act quickly to relieve anxiety and fear for the phobic dog.

Acepromazine is a drug which was once used commonly to treat thunderstorm phobias, but acepromazine is no longer recommended. Acepromazine will produce sedation, but has very little anxiolytic effect. With the use of acepromazine, medicated dogs will be sedate and unable to pursue undesirable behaviors, but these dogs can still be quite fearful and extremely scared.

Behavorial Modification Techniques to Help Resolve Thunderstorm Phobias in Dogs

Implementing successful behavioral modification techniques can also help reduce the amount of fear and anxiety a dog suffers during a thunderstorm and can help make a dog less scared.

Owners should be careful not to reward their dog for anxiety- or fear-driven behaviors. Petting, stroking or speaking soothingly to the scared dog can actually help reinforce to the dog that the behavior is acceptable and/or desirable. Though it may be difficult not to try to comfort a scared dog confronted with a thunderstorm, doing so may be counter-productive.

Instead of comforting the anxious or fearful dog, the dog owner should attempt to engage the dog in performing a known command, such as sit, stay or lie down. When the dog performs the task being asked for, a reward can be given.

Alternatively, fearful or anxious dogs can be engaged in a favorite exercise when scared during the course of a thunderstorm. Exercises may include chasing a ball or chewing on a bone. Some dogs may be distracted enough by such activity to become less mindful of the thunderstorm.

Counter-Conditioning and Desensitization in Dogs with Thunderstorm Phobias

Another behavioral modification technique which may be attempted is counter-conditioning the dog to the sounds of a thunderstorm. This is done by playing a recording of a thunderstorm starting at a low volume for a short period of time. As the dog becomes accustomed to the noises, the sound level can be gradually increased.

While performing this type of desensitization, medications such as fluoxetine or clomipramine may be useful. These medications are long-acting anti-depressants which can help calm the dog over the long term, making it easier for the dog to learn new behaviors.

Environmental Manipulation in Treating Dogs with Thunderstorm Phobias

Placing the anxious and fearful dog in a dark room may help calm the dog during thunderstorms. Playing loud music or another form of white noise to cover the sounds of the thunderstorm may also help.

If attempting environmental management for a dog which is scared of thunderstorms, the dog should first be accustomed to the darkened room along with the music or background noise provided. This atmosphere should be associated with pleasant things for the dog to help reduce the fear and anxiety which the dog feels during a thunderstorm. Food rewards offered in the darkened area, play activities practiced in the darkened area and relaxation techniques (teaching the dog to “settle”) practiced in the darkened area are all appropriate forerunners to using a darkened room with background noise during a thunderstorm.

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