Fear of Thunder and Loud Noises


contributed by Gwen Thee
Email: theeg@h01.pgh.wec.com

Many dogs exhibit fear of thunder and/or other loud noises. This phenomenon is actually very common, and affects dogs of both sexes and all breeds, including mixed-breed dogs. Some dogs show fear of thunder, yet have no reaction to other types of loud noises such as guns. Because of that observation, there is some speculation that the dog is reacting partially to the atmospheric pressure changes during a storm, as well as to the noise itself.

It has been observed that dogs which display no fear of storms as puppies may develop this fear later in life, although the reason or reasons why this happens remain unclear. There is some speculation that early exposure to thunderstorms and similar loud noises (fireworks, etc.) may accustom the dogs to these noises, therefore reducing the possibility that the dog will develop the fear later in life. No scientific research has yet been done to substantiate this, however.

There are many different ways to help your dog cope with this fear. Some of them are listed here, and you should review them all, and choose the method best suited to your dog based on his temperament, environment, and the degree of fear he displays. Please do talk to your vet prior to using any of the drugs mentioned to make sure your dog has no medical condition that would make a drug dangerous to him.

Slight Reactions - Pacing, Panting, Slight Distress

If your dog has a slight reaction, perhaps pacing the floor unable to settle down to sleep, panting a little more than usual, or showing slight signs of distress, but no panic, you may want to try one of the suggestions listed here. If your dog truly panics, there is a later section with suggestions for the more serious problem.

Only the crate training, if they have open access to their crate at all times, and noise de-sensitization are effective if the storm occurs when you are not home. However many of these methods will reduce the dogs stress to a level that they will be unconcerned with storms even when you are absent after enough time.

Crate Training (Safe Place)

If your dog is crate trained, or has a place that he considers his "safe place", you may find that he will ride out the storm better if he is confined to his safe place. He may actually want to be there, but feel a need to protect you that prevents him from going there. In this case you will see that he will settle down and relax more when you confine him to his safe place, thus relieving him of the responsibility of protecting you, and allowing him to stay where he is most comfortable.

Many dogs with a fear of thunder do better with an airline crate, or a wire crate that is covered, than an open wire crate.

Calm Reassurance

Some dogs merely need to be reassured that there is nothing to be afraid of. This is easier if you are not worried about the storm. If the storm makes you nervous, your dog may well be picking up on that.

However, you must be careful about the way you do this, and make sure you are not inadvertantly rewarding the dog for a fear reaction. If you positively reinforce fear reactions with unintentional praise - such as softly crooning or stroking when the dog exhibits fear, it is likely that the reactions will continue.

A variant of this approach is the "no big deal" approach. Because dogs are very sensitive to the moods of the people in their lives, they can be influenced by how people react to a storm. By simply ignoring the storm and carrying on with a normal household routine, you send the dog the message that the storm is no big deal. Talking to the dog in a light, happy tone of voice ("You're being SO silly! This is really no big deal.") and perhaps encouraging it to find a quiet place to settle down will often reassure the dog without reinforcing its fearful reaction to the storm.

Another way to reassure the dog without inadvertantly praising or reinforcing the fear reaction, is to massage your dog or brush your dog in long even strokes.

Positive Re-inforcement

One solution for mild fear of storms is to associate the storms with something wonderful. If your dog has a favorite indoor game, or a special treat, provide that during the storm. Many times they will get so absorbed with their game, or the possibility of a favored and special treat, that they will forget to worry about the storm. If you make this a practice during most storms, they will start to associate the storm with good things.

Noise De-Sensitization

Exposing your dog to many different loud noises, and always making sure something good happens, can help to reduce the dogs sensitvity to loud noises. Many hunting dogs look into the sky during storms looking for the birds that must be falling for them to retrieve. You can also play tapes of storms, starting at a low volume and working up to very high volume, and stroke them, play with them, and teach them to ignore the sound.

A tape with sound effects and instructions for use is available from K-9 Counter-conditioning obtainable from pet supply stores, or by calling 800/952-6517.

For dogs that seem to react to more than the noise alone, many behaviorists reccomend a more indepth scenario - such as placing a cookie sheet in the shower and turning it on to simulate the sound of rain and darkening the room as much as possible.

Severe Reactions - Howling, Racing Madly, Foaming, Severe Distress

The following suggestions were published by the Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue. They are appropriate to consider if your dog has a severe fear of noises and/or storms. Any panic behaviour, such as uncontrolled running, foaming at the mouth, howling consistently, aggression, or violent shaking should be considered severe, and may well warrant one of the solutions posted below. Again, please consult with your vet before attempting to give your dog any drugs.

Note: I do not endorse or recommend these suggestions. As always, the responsiblity for your pet's care lies with you and your chosen professionals.

Behaviour Modification

A behavior modification program, to be carried out at home, is explained in an article by veterinary behaviorists Victoria Voith and Peter Borcheldt. For information, request Booklet #1110--"Fear of Thunder and Other Loud Noises" from Quaker Professional Services, 585 Hawthorne Court, Galesburg IL 61401.

Drug Programs

Certain anxiety reducing drugs can be very effective in controlling a dog's reactions to storms and other loud noises. Two of the most commonly used drugs are Acepromazine and Valium, although the first is strong enough that it may cause temporary problems with motor coordination, and the second may be too weak for severe cases.

Newer anxiety reducing drugs include Tranxene-SD, which is longer-lasting than Valium, and Buspirone, which may help in milder cases. Beta- blockers, such as Propanolol and Inderol, may also be helpful.

In many cases, the dose of drug needed to ease the dog's anxieties can be reduced over time. Consultation with your veterinarian concerning specific drugs and doseages is a necessary precaution.

Homeopathic Remedies

Several homeopathic remedies are available in many health food stores, including the following.

Phosphorus HPUS 30C: Drop 3-5 pellets down back of dog's throat (without touching them yourself) every 15 minutes until you see improvement in the dog's behavior, then stop. Dosage may be repeated if necessary.

Aconitum Napellus 30C: Given in the same way Phosphorus is used.

For milder thunderstorm fears the Bach Flower (aka Rescue Remedy or Nature's Rescue) is recommended. Place 4 drops on the dog's tongue or side of the mouth, or in the dog's water bowl. Dose may be repeated 4-5 times an hour.

Additional Drug Programs

The following programs were not published by the Yankee Golden Retriever Club, but provide some additional information on the use of drugs.

Ace promazine is only useful when you have a lot of advanced warning. It takes a long time to become effective and may not work until after the storm has passed if not given at least 1 hour before. Valium is much quicker acting and metabolizes much faster, thus clearing from the bloodstream quicker. Therefore, for most dogs it is preferrable to ace.

For severe and frequent problems - amitriptyline or Elavil, a tricyclic anti deppressant, can be used on a daily basis throughout the storm season. Second generation drugs such as Prozac may also be used. If given daily beginning a month before the storm season, these drugs have been helpful in a number of cases. These should be reserved for animals that can potentially harm themselves or others during a storm. These are prescription drugs and should ONLY be prescribed by your licensed veterinarian!

This article was originally written for the Golden-Retreiver.com website. Permission by the author has been given to use article here.

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Last Updated Sunday, April 01, 2001