Spring is in full swing here in Central Illinois, and with it comes thunderstorms. Some of our best friends do fine during tumultuous weather, while others are extremely terrified by the first crack of thunder, flash of lightening, and everything else associated with spring storms.
There are no simple fixes for this phobia, but there are some things you can do to help your dog. Below you’ll find links to two excellent articles on the subject written by Patricia McConnell and Jolanta Benal.
Thunder Phobia in Dogs by Patricia McConnell, Ph.D.
Dogs and Thunderstorms by Jolanta Benal, CPDT – KA
Our Kayla has developed quite a fear of thunderstorms as she has gotten older, and we have found a combination of strategies work best to calm her.
We recently purchased a Thundershirt, which fortunately works quite well for her (though we know it doesn’t work for every dog). Like swaddling a baby, Thundershirt’s “gentle,constant pressure has a dramatic calming effect for most dogs if they are anxious, fearful or over-excited.”
Timing is everything when it comes to spring storms, so when possible we put the Thundershirt on Kayla before they hit hard, combining it with with counter conditioning and, if storms are severe and last for several hours, a mild dose of Alprazolam (Xanax). Of course you need to check with your vet to see IF, and what medication might work for your dog.
Treating storm phobia with counter conditioning requires good luck and timing in order to be home with your dog when the storm is approaching and as it intensifies. When good timing is possible, pairing high value treats with claps of thunder helps Kayla associate storms with the good feelings connected to receiving tasty treats, (instead of fear).
For counter conditioning you will want to enlist the help of skilled dog trainer or behaviorist to ensure that it is done effectively.