Ask the Trainer: Dealing with Thunderstorms

ColSafford DogTipperWe’ve got another great Ask the Dog Trainer column from Colleen Safford from New York Walk & Train, named “Best of NY” by New York Magazine. This is a really important question that we know that many of you have about your dogs (and one that we also have about our dog, Irie!)

My dog is terrified by thunderstorms. Is there anything I can do to train her to not be scared of thunderstorms? One thing I’m really, really worried about is a storm suddenly coming in when we’re on a walk.

My dog Luna suffers from noise and storm phobia. It’s something we have struggled with for nine years. There are certainly a number of things you can do, but depending on the severity, thunderstorm and noise phobia are something that can warrant discussing the use of pharmacological remedies. (Luna is on Xanax during storm days and fireworks weekends!) This information can often evoke a “Huff!? Are you kidding me,” response from owners. The truth however is that with moderate to severe cases, studies have shown medications are more helpful than training (desensitization and counter conditioning).  It should also be noted that if left unaddressed, storm and general noise phobia will worsen with time.

Depending on your dog’s reaction, here are some things to try. If your dog is still showing signs of stress when using these methods, discussing the issue with a veterinarian (preferably a veterinarian behaviorist) is recommended. You need to pair thunderstorms with pleasurable activities, such as eating or engaging in games.

  1. Check the weather. During storm season, your daily routine will include looking up the forecast first thing in the a.m. My homepage is weather.com during May-September. It’s easy!
  2. Get into the habit of stuffing very enticing food stuffable toys and having them stocked and ready in the fridge (like Kong, Atomic Ball, Tricky Treat ball). Before you say, “but I don’t want my dog to get chubby,” you need to factor these mini meals into your dog’s daily ration of food.
  3. Be proactive. You need to be ready and prepped BEFORE the weather changes (that includes when the starts to blow and  the pressure changes etc.) Do not wait until the storms starts.  Once a dog becomes anxious, it is hard for him to just relax again. Your goal is to make sure your dog doesn’t become stressed during this time.
  4. Consider herbal remedies. Again, depending on the severity of the case, many clients have had success with using Melatonin and Rescue Remedy. These are herbal supplements and can be purchased over the counter at both human and pet specific stores. You cannot overmedicate with these.
  5. Invest in a pressure wrap like Thundershirt. Honestly, I am not sure exactly why they work, but use pressure wraps is used with numerous to treat anxiety. Humans tightly swaddle our newborns, the cattle industry uses them for examinations, they are used more and more in the treatment of autism.

In terms of your fear that a storm will hit while you’re out and about, I would recommend choosing your outings very wisely at this time. Avoid being out during a possible storm’s approach AND be sure your dog is wearing very safe equipment, such as a non-slip martingale collar.

Warm wags!

Colleen

Do you have a dog training or behavior question for Colleen Safford? Please submit your question using our submit a question contact form (or if you have any problems with the form, just drop us a line at editors AT dogtipper.com and we’ll forward your question to Colleen.) Questions will be answered online in this column and not individually. (See more articles by and about Colleen Safford on DogTipper.)

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About Paris Permenter

Paris Permenter is the founder and co-publisher of LT Media Group LLC. Along with her husband, John Bigley, she edits DogTipper.com, CatTipper.com, and has authored over 30 books on pets and travel.