I live in Virginia. The state, and much of the southeast, has had an unruly amount of thunderstorms this summer. My poodle-mix Teddy is terrified of them. After consultation and experimentation, here are some solutions that have proved helpful for him and his canine buddies.
In the beginning
When I know a storm is coming—and this year they seem to have been constantly coming—I put my plan into action. Waiting until the thunder is clapping and Teddy is shaking has proved far less effective.
Stay calm and carry on
Teddy’s trainer told me that, like most dogs, Teddy takes his cues from me. It seems that calm, like nervousness, can be contagious. Responding to Teddy’s agitation with an attitude of composure reduces his stress.
Hold me now
Give him/her a cuddle. While I try not to go overboard—since over comforting can become positive reinforcement—a reassuring hug and kind words often help. Unfortunately, Teddy wants to be held, preferably carried, during the entire duration of the storm. This became a problem. A trusted dog person recommended the Thundershirt to me, and I’ve been really pleased.
The cloth vest provides a calming pressure to him, a sense that he is being hugged. After a few minutes he generally quiets down and eventually lies down. It’s not a miracle cure, however. He’s still a little anxious, but the shaking and whining subside. In addition, Teddy looks fabulous, albeit slightly tense, in his sporty, grey wrap.
I want to be alone
Not all dogs want cuddling, however. My sister’s Borzoi, Colt, prefers going to a quiet dark space, a sort of return to the den. Possibly just as well, since the option of holding his 100 pound frame on her lap would prove awkward for my sister. For dogs like Colt, their crate or a small unlit room is preferred. In Colt’s case, his safe room of choice is my sister’s walk-in closet. He waits out the storm on his special rug, private and serene. This may be a solution for your dog. Make sure that the safe place is also a welcoming one, and offer soft bedding. My sister checks on him frequently, offers kind words and toys.
My neighbor, Helen, has a terrier-mix, Trixie. For Trixie Rescue Remedy, which comes from flower extracts, has been the answer. Trixie won’t allow the drops to be placed in her mouth, so Helen rubs the dosage on the dog’s ears. A friend in dog rescue suggests lavender oil or “Dog Appeasing Pheromone” (D.A.P.) , available in a diffuser.
Bring in the noise
As beneficial as Thundershirt therapy has proven to be, I want to address the actual phobia. My next step is to try desensitization, accustoming Teddy to these sounds overtime. I’ve purchased a CD of storm sounds. I’m going slowly, only a few minutes at first and at a low volume, and I plan to gradually increase the volume over time while providing treats, play, and support. Dog trainer Victoria Stillwell wrote an interesting article about the process.
Call the doctor
Although Teddy’s problem is upsetting to both of us, it is manageable. For some dogs this isn’t the case. No one wants to see their dog in misery, and if you’ve tried these remedies and the problem persists, consult with your veterinarian. There are drugs available that can be taken prior to a storm or during the storm season that can help. Also, your vet can recommend a board certified behaviorist, who can work with you to solve the problem.
Hope this is useful, and I’d love to hear from you.
Gina Corell has written for a dog magazine, taken photographs used in dog calendars, helped with the rescue and transport of shelter dogs, and works with a local all-breed rescue group. She also knows firsthand the unconditional love and joy rescue dogs provide, having adopted an older special-needs dog. She shares her home and her life with a wonderful poodle-mix rescue that she originally fostered. Currently, she is working on a book about dog ownership and is collecting pictures from owners to be used in the book. To learn more about Gina and how to enter your dog’s picture for consideration, go to www.ginac.com, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/gina.corell.5 . For helpful tips about taking pictures of your dog check out her blog entry, Picture Perfect Pups, at http://www.ginac.com/ginacblog.html.