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Posted on 09-30-2011

Thunderstorms are a common fear in dogs. Dogs can sense a storm approaching before it can even be heard. By helping to manage your pet's fear, you will reduce the risk of anxiety, panic, and destructive behavior. Although the loud noises and bright flashes of a thunderstorm can cause great fear in your pet, dogs can be trained to react to their changing environment, and feel calmer through a once before stressful time. Here are some helpful tips.

To ensure the safety of your animal, make sure they can be properly identified. The extreme fear that overcomes their body is joined with an overwhelming rush of adrenaline. This anxiety may cause them to startle more easily and escape through a door or window. Proper forms of identification like a microchip or tags with your pet's as well as your own information on it, will lower the chance of losing your animal if they were to get out of the house. William_1.jpg

Set up a comfortable environment during the storm. Some dogs may become extremely destructive. To prevent injury to yourself, and your animal, create a safe place for your dog to go when they hear the fearful noise. Pay attention to where they try to go and make it a comfortable, appealing place for them to hide. You may want to create a "hidey-hole". This place is dark, small, and shielding from the frightening sound. It may be helpful to place a radio or fan in this spot to help block out the sound, as well. Feeding or playing with your pet in this spot will create an association that "good things" happen there.

The distraction method works best when your dog has just started to get anxious. Try and capture their attention. This will act as a distraction and help prevent fearful behavior. As soon as you notice the change in their behavior, grab a ball or a favorite toy to play fetch or practice some commands they already know. As the storm progresses, you may not be able to keep their attention any longer. But, repeating this every time a storm occurs may delay the fearful behavior longer each time. Always follow up with a tasty treat to reinforce the positive behavior.

Behavior modification techniques can be used in reducing fears and phobias. These techniques are called "counter techniques" such as "counter-conditioning" and "desensitization." Introducing these methods very gradually, according to your own pets needs, is the key to their success. These teach your dog to respond in a non-fearful way to sounds that were previously frightening. Start the process by introducing a tape recording of the feared sound at a volume so low they don't even respond. As the tape is playing, feed dinner or a treat, play a fun game, or simply fetch a tennis ball. Continue increasing the volume louder during each session over a period of time until the fearful behavior has improved or disappeared.Max_at_Lake_June_7_2009_0601_1.jpg

A newer approach for this behavior is the Thundershirt. This is an excellent treatment for most types of dog anxiety and fear issues. You may see significant improvement with absolutely no training but is recommended as part of a behavior modification program. The Thundershirt's gentle, constant pressure has a dramatic calming effect for most dogs if they are anxious, fearful or over-excited. Based on surveys completed by customers, over 80% of dogs show significant improvement in symptoms when using Thundershirt. The shirts calming effect helps your dog focus their energy in a more constructive direction. 

If your dog has severe fears and phobias and you're unable to achieve success, you should consult with our veterinarians. We serve the Chester county area including Chester Springs, Exton, Downingtown and Glenmoore. Medications are available which can help reduce your dog's anxiety levels for short time periods. Keep in mind, drug therapy will not eliminate your pet's fear but together with behavior modification, can improve it.

Taryn Wolf, Vet Tech Assistant

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