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  • Writer's pictureToby

Dogs and storms

Storm season is upon us again and many of our dogs can find storms particularly scary… Dogs often break out of their yards and end up in the Council Pound, being picked up by strangers or worse yet being hit by cars during this time of the year.

Dogs’ hearing is much more acute than ours and some dogs can be more prone to panic related disorders e.g. working breeds (Border Collies, Kelpies, Australian Cattle Dogs) as well as those that may already have other fearful behaviours like separation anxiety or chronic stress related to a medical condition. Dogs can have phobias to a variety of different noises or just specifically to storms.

There can be a number of factors that trigger storm phobia including: drop in barometric pressure, thunder, static electricity, lightening, humidity, rain and wind – or any combination of these. The triggers may be different for each dog and your dog may display a range of behaviours including hiding, trembling, salivating, dilated pupils, excessive panting and pacing. It’s important to manage the environment and try to reduce the intensity of the phobia for the dog. Firstly, prepare a safe place for your dog during a storm – particularly for when you are not at home - like a shed or an undercover area. Ensure your fences are high and secure and place locks on your gates in case the gates get blown open in the wind. Dogs will often dig to get out of the yard when thunder is close so having concrete and/or chicken wire along fence-lines can be useful. Also ensure your dog is wearing a collar and name tag (or embroidered collar) with your telephone number as required by the Companion Animals Act 1998. Do not tie your dog up, he has to be able to move and get away from the stimuli. Next, ensure your dog is trained to respond to basic behaviours (sit, drop, stay, come) and can be directed to a place on cue. This can be important when you need him to respond under stressful conditions. Be proactive and download a CD of storm noises which you can play at a low volume so your dog gets used to these different noises at a young age before the storm season starts. Pair these noises with good treats and fun activities like playing with balls and toys or fun training. This will teach your dog that ‘good things happen’ when these triggers occur. If possible, give your dog a safe and comfortable place inside to lay e.g. a laundry, under your bed or in a dark open cupboard. Leave white noise on (TV or radio) or music to muffle the noise of the storm. Thunder shirts may also help by swaddling your dog and making him feel more secure Calming pheromones like Adaptil Dog Appeasement Pheromone may also help Storm phobia can be severe and medication may be required for some dogs. Recovery time is important. You should consult with your Veterinarian if your dog doesn’t recover quickly from a phobic incident and/or causes injury to himself. Untreated phobias will often worsen over time. Remember, dogs are all individuals and there is no ‘one size fits all’ – particularly when fear is concerned. Consult a behaviour specialist to work with you in need. Finally, it is ok to cuddle your dog and let him sit on your lap for comfort if you choose to do so! You can’t reinforce anxiety by comforting a dog,” according to Dr. Melissa Bain, an associate professor of clinical animal behavior at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, “You won’t make the fear worse. Do what you need to do to help your dog.” Have a great day, Toby x



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