Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Storm Fear

Living in Michigan means at least a thunderstorm per week during the summer. Out of our seven dogs, we are fortunate that only Haven is afraid of storms. I am always on the lookout for new ideas to help Haven cope so I will share what I know about this phobia as it has related to her. I am by no means an expert and some of the things I have tried that didn’t work for us, may very well work for someone else.

Haven was born in May and we didn’t get her from my breeder until August but I don’t remember anything usual that first summer as a puppy. Then again I was so preoccupied with her broken leg that I may have missed indicators.

I think there are two things that can bother the dog. One is the change in barometric pressure that precedes and accompanies a storm. This is what I believe bothers Haven the most. It can be a clear day and she will start showing signs of stress long before a storm arrives. As a storm approaches, Haven will begin to pant heavily, pace around the house, and be “wild-eyed”. She cannot bring her self to stop moving and is not comforted by sitting next to one of us. If a storm starts after we are all in bed/crates, she will dig at the bottom of her crate door until her toes bleed. Her crate is situated under a window in the dog room and I wonder if the sound of the rain hitting the window sets her off. I am a light sleeper when it comes to my dogs so I hear her and put her in a crate in our bedroom. Once she settles into the new crate, she is fine and sleeps the rest of the night. I hate thinking about my poor girl if a storm hits and we are not home.

There are a variety of things on the market that are supposed to help. I recently tried Rescue Remedy (about $16) which is an herbal liquid that you give to the dog, and though I only tried it a couple of times, I did not notice an improvement of her symptoms. ( I did spill much of it on my bed and I can say that I slept better that night) To be fair I will try it again this summer. More recently (last weekend) I bought a product called Calm Caps (about $16). The ingredients include Kava Kava and Valerian Root. These were from a vendor at the dogs show called Nature’s Farmacy. I’ve given Haven two doses of these and she did seem to calm a bit, but I also knew the storm was coming and dosed her more than an hour before any thunder. Something I have not tried but would like to try are the calming coats you can buy. The theory is similar to the way it calms a baby when wrapping them in a swaddling blanket. The pressure exerted on the body by the jacket calms them. These are pricey but I have heard good things about them.

The other thing that can affect the dog is the sound of the thunder and the flashing of the lightening. This noise phobia is also seen during the 4th of July celebrations with fireworks.
In puppy class I tell my students to make a positive association with the noise. Even if it is the middle of the night, get up and play a game of ball in the house, and as long as they are not showing signs of stress, feed lots of treats. Make it a happy time.
You can also purchase cds with storm sounds and by playing them over and over and increasing the volume over time may desensitize the dog to the sound of thunder.

If anyone else out there has had experience with this please chime in and tell us what worked or didn’t work for you and your dog.


Riley & Tiki said...

A couple of Husky blogs we read suggest putting a t-shirt on a dog. The theory is that they are so annoyed with the t-shirt that they pay less attention to the storm. Good luck!

Disclaimer: we don't have this problem at our house. Our woofie only freaks out about sirens. We kitties think he's silly.

Shelley said...

The t-shirt probably won't work with poodles. They are so used to being handled, primped and prodded that they would probably just think..."Oh, now what?" With various forms of inflection depending on the personality of the poodle.