Weathering the Storm: Managing Noise Phobias
The recent thunderstorms have brought more than just a lot of rain to my Wisconsin community. My veterinary office has been flooded with calls from anxious owners wondering what can be done for their thunderstorm phobic dog.
Fear of thunderstorms and other loud booming noises like gunfire and fireworks is fairly common among dogs. Unfortunately, like most anxiety issues, this type of fear can worsen with time and age.Â TheÂ phobia is stressful for both the pet and the owner.Â Sometimes it is downright dangerous for the dog if he becomes destructive or escapes (thinking of Winn-DixieÂ here)!Â
- keep your pet indoors during a thunderstorm and fireworks.Â Â Many fearful dogs have been lost when they ran from their yards in terror during storms and fireworks.
- keep your pet in an interior, windowless room to reduce his exposure to the noise and light triggers behind his phobia.
- turn up the stereo or television to drown out some of the outside noises.
- provide toys, games, treats and positive interactions during a thunderstorm or fireworks to help distract your pet and to create as positive of an experience as possible.
- try to have someone with your dog so he does not feel abandoned.Â
- consider an over-the-counter natural pet anti-anxiety supplement. Many of my patients have experienced lower stress levels during storms, fireworks, travel and in general thanks to natural supplements (ask your veterinarian for suggestions).
- consider using a Thundershirt as another alternative to medications. I love this "technological advance" for anxious animals, although the technique is old as the hills. Like swaddling for colicky babies or Temple Grandin's homemade squeeze chute for self-calming, the Thundershirt appears to provide security and comfort during stressful situations.Â
- ask your veterinarian for additional training advice or specific behavior modification techniques (such as protocols to desensitize the dog to the sounds of a thunderstorm). Â
- consult your veterinarian to determine if your pet would benefit from behavior modifying or anti-anxiety medications.
- punish your dog when he is scared. Punishment only confirms to him that there is something to be afraid of and make negative behaviors worse.
- fuss, pet or try to reassure your dog when he is scared. By speaking in a high-pitched, soothing voice and lavishing extra attention on your dog you are unwittingly rewarding and reinforcingÂ the fearful behavior.Â
- be tense during storms.Â Be upbeat andÂ act normallyÂ so your dog picks up on your body language and emotions and becomes more confident during storms.
Your dog may never enjoy a good thunderstorm or thrill at a fireworks display, but with consistent, gentle behavior management I hope that youÂ will be able to once again.