Helping dogs with storm anxiety | Pet Peeves
We are entering that time of year when storms become a problem for dogs with storm anxiety.
Dogs with storm anxiety act fearful to the point of causing damage to themselves or their surroundings. Storm anxiety symptoms can be as mild as trembling, panting and pacing to tearing down sheetrock and digging and chewing until the dog’s nails bleed and its teeth are worn down.
Sometimes the condition can be traced to a specific incident, such as being left out in a bad storm, but often it is just a behavioral condition the dog is prone to that gradually worsens with age. Many dogs that are afraid of storms are also afraid of loud noises, like the bombing on base that we hear at a distance in our area.
It has been postulated that dogs sense the electricity in the air or the change of the barometric pressure. They seem to know before anyone else that a storm is coming and start showing symptoms before the storm even hits.
Treatment can include behavioral medicine that you can get from your veterinarian, but these medicines work best if coupled with behavioral therapy. One of the best commands you will ever teach your pet is “Sit”. When your pet is anxious and does not know what to do, if he really has the verbal “sit” command down, you can tell him to sit and reward him. It will help him focus.
Have a safe place for the dog to escape the storm noises and lightning flashes. The safe space should be as far away from windows as possible but open to the rest of the house. A good example is a hall in the middle of the house. The doors to the rooms can be closed off, eliminating exposure to windows, but the hall would still be open to the living and dining room area.
If you try to confine the dog to a safe space he will panic and tear it up. If he thinks he can leave it at any time, he will be more apt to settle down in that space. In his mind, it is the best alternative to the rest of the house. If the hall is not an option, under a desk in a room with shuttered windows and an open door might work. You get the idea.
When the dog starts to act anxious, guide him to the safe area. Do not make a big deal by over-comforting the dog. Praise him for calm behavior, but try to ignore anxious behavior or acting out.
Consider applying an article of clothing to the pet such as a pet sweater or a Thunder Shirt. Thunder shirts can be found online at www.thundershirt.com. They apply constant gentle pressure over the body of the pet, giving it comfort. Many people think they work well.
Pets also get behavioral cues from their owners. Staying calm and keeping a routine makes a big difference in how our pets respond. Severe cases do benefit from anti-anxiety medications.
There are a lot of choices these days. Consult your veterinarian and he can help you determine what medication would best help your pet.