Wednesday, 19 January 2022
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Thunder Terror: Easing Storm-Related Anxiety in Dogs

If a normally well-mannered, well-adjusted dog begins barking, pacing, panting or clinging when skies turn grey, the wind picks up and thunder rumbles, the poor pooch may be suffering from storm-related anxiety. Now at the height of the late summer thunderstorm season, dog owners can learn the signs of weather anxiety and how to address it to reassure their canine companion.

“I think it is the noise that causes thunderstorm anxiety in dogs,” said Kim Welch, owner of Kim K9 Kompanion in Swanzey and a dog trainer who has written several articles on storm-related fear in dogs. “There is sort of the belief they might be able to feel the change in barometric pressure, and some people think they can feel the electricity, but I think it is the noise. We live on the side of a hill with granite nearby and when the lightening hits the granite it makes a loud snap or pop, so maybe with their better hearing dogs can hear the lightning as well as the thunder.”

Whatever the cause, many dogs react to the weather by having what is almost a dog anxiety attack. Some begin to pace around the house or pant excessively. Others bark, while some cower in bathrooms or closets or perhaps glue themselves to their owner’s side. Many exhibit a combination of these behaviors while trying to cope with their emotions.

“They are displaying fear and looking for comfort, relief and reassurance,” Welch said. “It is important for owners to understand that fear isn’t a behavior but an emotion. Sometimes you hear that if you comfort the dog it makes their fear worse, but I think if they are seeking comfort it is almost cruel not to give it. If you would give a child a hug, it is the same with the dog.”

To reassure a scared dog in the midst of a storm, owners can try a number of coping methods. 

“A lot of times if a dog has a really hard time in a storm, owners can set up a safety zone. It can be behind stairs or in the basement, but you don’t want to introduce it in the throes of a storm,” Welch said. “Owners should take them in good weather so when there is a storm they will be more relaxed.”

Welch also recommended the CD series “Through a Dog’s Ear.” Available on Amazon, this audio series took classical music and adapted it in a style best suited to appeal to dogs and help calm them.

“The CDs you can just start playing for your dog while they are in their safe space,” Welch said. “The benefits are twofold. It can help drown out the noise of the storm and it is soothing.”

In working with dogs expressing anxiety, Welch said she would first see what lead the dog takes in addressing their fear and follow it. If the dog were to seek comfort, she would give it. If he looked for a haven, she would help provide it. And sometimes it makes the most sense to combine techniques.

“There are quite a few things you can do in conjunction with each other. It might not be enough for a safe space and music. There are Thundershirts and D.A.P (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) Spray to try as well,” Welch said. “Not everything works for every dog, so it is important to try a combination.”

According to Morgan Monty, assistant merchandise manager at The Cheshire Horse in Swanzey, the Thundershirt was developed by dog owners whose pet had a difficult time each summer dealing with fireworks and thunderstorms. They had an infant who like being swaddled and decided to try putting their dog in a cotton shirt and taping it close to his body. It worked. 

“Customers were looking for a natural calming technique that was drug-free but can help their pets relax,” Monty said about first stocking the product. “The Thundershirt is similar to swaddling a baby in that it provides gentle pressure around the midsection. The nice thing about them is that they are satisfaction guaranteed so you can try it and see if it works. The Thundershirt has about an 80% effectiveness rate so it is a nice place to start. Owners can even bring their dog in on a leash to the store to try it on, and they come in classic cotton and a sport version more for travel or high use.”

Thundershirts are available at The Cheshire Horse in Swanzey or online at cheshirehorse.com/thundershirt-anxiety-blanket. Thundershirts and other remedies for storm-related anxiety are also sold at all six local Achille Agway stores. For more information, visit achilleagway.com. If your dog has trouble coping and you feel a specialist is needed, find Kim Welch online at kimk9kompanionnh.com for additional assistance.

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