Many people rely on the weather forecast to check for chances of upcoming storms, but owners of brontophobic dogs likely depend on their dogs. Brontophobia, is the medical term used to depict an irrational fear of thunder, and several dogs develop it. Storm after storm, these dogs may become sensitive to cues suggesting an impending storm such as minimal changes in barometric pressure and humidity levels. Then as the first clap of thunder rolls in, brontophobic dogs will start shaking and will likely head for the closet or under the bed. For the whole duration of the storm, the dog will likely be in helpless state and will feel better only once the storm is completely over.
This fear of thunder may seem irrational to us humans, but it’s not uncommon in dogs. It may stem from a general fear of noises. Such dogs are often fearful of other noises such as fireworks, a car backfiring and other sudden, loud noises. When facing the source of their fears, affected dogs may become clingy to their owners, while others may try to hide and some others may bark at the fear-inducing noise. Panting, drooling, pacing, freezing and shaking are some symptoms often seen in brontophobic dogs. In severe cases, affected dogs may also injure themselves in an attempt to escape.
How to Help a Thunder-Phobic Dog
Treating a dog who is terrorized of thunder is not easy. Exposing him to the noise in hopes of him learning to tolerate it, often leads to increased fear. Desensitization is a behavior modification technique that exposes the dog systematically to feared noises by playing them at low volume. The volume can then be increased very gradually. There are several tapes of thunderstorms that can be played to dogs with this type of fear; however, their use may not be very effective as it’s difficult to replicate the whole storm along with the accompanying flashes of lightening, the darkening of the sky and the changes in pressure observed in a real storm.
Counter-conditioning is another technique which can be used in conjunction with desensitization. In this technique the dog is taught that good things happen when a storm is approaching. The dog may therefore be fed his favorite treats, given a bone or a Kong filled with goodies, or a play session may be arranged for the duration of the storm.
Behavior modification takes time, but with gradual, systematic exposure results should be attained over time. Improper implementation is often the cause for setbacks and lack of progress. It’s important to pay attention to the dog’s body language and signs of stress. Exposure to experiences that are overwhelming lead to sensitization, the opposite of desensitization.
Tips for Living with a Brontophobic Dogs
Sometimes it takes multiple approaches to help a brontophobic dog. Calming aids and noise buffers along with behavior modification may be helpful. Truth is, when a dog is too stressed, learning is impaired. A dog cannot cognitively function if he is in a state of panic. Following are some tips for helping brontophobic dogs.
- Turn on some white noise so to make the sound of thunderstorms less intense. A radio, the TV or an air conditioner may be helpful.
- Play music meant to reduce anxiety in dogs. Through a Dog’s Ear is a popular CD purposely crafted for nervous dogs.
- Close curtains and blinds so the dog’s anxiety will not be visually stimulated.
- Brontophobic dogs can also be helped with the use of calming aids. Dog appeasing pheromone diffusers plugged in the room the dog frequents the most can be helpful.
- The use of snug shirts have shown desirable results in some cases. Thundershirt, the Anxiety Wrap and the Storm Defender Cape are a few examples.
- Create a safe haven your dog can retreat to when scared. Ideally, this area should be without windows in a place where noises are muffled. Placing blankets in the area will help make it extra comfy.
- Learn the basics of T-Touch to massage your dog and instill calmness.
- Calming supplements for dogs found over the counter may be helpful, but severe cases may require prescription drugs.
The Bottom Line
It’s important to be calm and patient around a brontophobic dog. It must be remembered that these dogs are not being unruly or disobedient. They are acting out of fear and need understanding to help them learn how to better cope with their stress. Consulting with a reputable dog behavior professional such as a veterinary behaviorist or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist may be helpful.