Monday, January 13, 2014

The Thunder Rolls

 
There are as many studies concerning the effects of thunderstorms on dogs as there are lightning strikes during a storm. It seems many dogs are terrified of the noise. The clinical terminology is brontophobia or astraphobia, which is the acute fear of thunder and lightning. One small study labeled certain breeds, German Shepherds, Basset Hounds, Beagles, and other working breeds, as being more prone to this phobia. My personal experience with these breeds does support this finding, although I tend to believe it has more to do with the individual dog. We’ve had four German Shepherds but only one that really showed signs of unease at thunder. Ironically, Jake was a retired police K-9 and one of the most fearless dogs I’ve known. He would do a building search, take down an armed criminal, and never flinch. A few crackles of thunder and he would climb on the couch to lay his big head on my lap for comfort. I had a Beagle growing up and I don’t believe any noise bothered him. That brings me to my Basset Hound, Bentley. The boy hates thunder, fireworks, and he isn’t a big fan of gunfire in the woods by our home.

   Most of the experts recommend several steps to help your pet overcome this irrational fear. The first step is to divert their attention with play, music, or treats. The reasoning behind this is to have your dog associate the storm with nice things. Some of these articles go on to offer ways to desensitize the animal to the noise by playing a recording of thunder during clear skies. I agree with diverting their attention by playing games and turning on soothing music. That makes sense and we do this if the storm happens during daylight hours. As far as playing thunderstorm sounds on a clear day, I don’t know if it’d work, but I can’t see myself trying that method. Bentley and I prefer a light jazz station or something along those lines.
   I was shocked that most resources that I read promoted medicating your pet with an anti-anxiety drug.
The suggestions included Valium, Paxil, Xanax, and Prozac. I am certainly not going to get on a soapbox concerning this method. I realize it may be necessary in extreme pet cases. However, the use of these drugs in the human population is bordering on epidemic. I know it is beneficial in treating patients with stress or anxiety. In some individuals, it can be a life-saving treatment and needed to maintain a normal lifestyle. My concern in prescribing these drugs to animals on a general basis means humans will have access to them. Do not fool yourself for a moment into believing someone wanting a “buzz” won’t take the dog’s meds. Personally, I don’t’ want my pets taking any pharmaceuticals that aren’t absolutely necessary for leading a productive, healthy life. My Golden Retriever took the same brand thyroid medicine as I do for hypothyroidism. That being said, we never took each other’s pills.
   One of the other suggestions I found common in all of the studies was not to soothe or cuddle your dog. The authors suggested putting a garment on them such as a specially designed shirt or tight-fitting wrap, kennel them, or let them get into the bathtub. I know several dog people that are true believers in the shirt solution. They use it during storms and July 4/New Year’s Eve when noise induces the panic in their best friend. I say if it works then more power to them! However, in my opinion not soothing or comforting your dog when they are frightened is cruel. I am by no means a pet expert, but I am a mom and to me the idea is just incomprehensible. Bentley would never let me be frightened without trying to make it better. How can I possible not return the loving favor? Am I re-enforcing bad behavior? Maybe, but if it is a choice between reassuring my frightened fur baby with hugs or letting him “work it out” alone then I choose reassurance every single time.
    Are you wondering why I’m rumbling about thunderstorms? This past Friday morning around 5:00 a.m., Bentley stood on the side of our bed tapping my arm. Since we had only gone to sleep a couple of hours
before, I groaned. We knew there was a storm warning but had our fingers crossed it would be slow moving so we could rest. He walked into the bathroom, looked up at the skylight, and came back. Tap, tap, tap. In Bentley language that means, “Mom, get up, mama, mommy.” Tap, tap, tap. “MOM, MAMA, MOMMY!!!” That was when I heard the first boom of thunder. Okay, there was no use in trying to sleep because he will not rest until I got up with him. He trots over to Dad’s side of the bed next. Deciding one of us should get some sleep, I took Bentley into the living room. We piled on the couch to snuggle. All was fine until the storm cranked up and he needed to go check to make sure Thor the god of thunder had not taken Dad. After confirming no harm had befallen Dad, he came back in to sit and fret with me. We would doze between the loud booms until it finally passed around 9:30. I slept about an hour longer before starting my day but Bentley was soooo sleepy. I tried not to be jealous as he snored louder than the thunder for several more hours.
    What is the answer to help convince him that thunder does not mean the end of the world is eminent? I’m not sure of the answer but I do know I will be hoping for daytime storms for the next few weeks!
    Does your furry friend have a fear of storms or another phobia? How do you deal with them?

7 comments :

  1. That dog my mor and dad had before me, was extremely scared of thunderstorms, fire crackers and all that sort of loud noises. My mom bought a CD with all that sort of noises, and played it for a month, at the beginning real low, and then louder and louder. She played it the hole day, even while they were watching TV and was eating and all that stuff. At last he didn't care at all for all that noises, because they have been there for a month or more.

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    1. That is great that the CD worked. Bentley senses the storm before the actual thunder so I think it has to do with the atmosphere also. I may have to resort to a tape at some point. Thanks for your input!

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  2. I agree very much with your advice here - especially on the meds to treat anxiety. I acknowledge that might be necessary for extreme situations, but it's my opinion that it should be a last resort.
    Moses spent a lot of time with the Husband at work as a puppy - on job sites for residential construction/renovation - so he's used to loud noises and banging around. Thunder doesn't bother him in the least.
    This was something we had to work on with Alma, though. When we adopted her, even a loud diesel pickup passing on the street would freak her out. So we slowly built up her positive experiences with loud noises and after a few years she's mostly okay with it. Though, if there's a particularly spectacular thunderstorm going on, she may still come over and curl up close to us or head to her kennel and hang out there to wait it out.

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    1. Thanks for weighing in on the subject. Hammering, sawing, and other noises don't seem to bother Bentley. I am going to work on the positive reinforcements during daytime storms and hope it helps.

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  3. Luckily we don't get too many thundestorms here in SoCal because Jack is not a fan. We do get pretty strong winds though - particularly when the Santa Ana's kick up and our dog Tino really didn't like the wind.

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    1. I have seen videos on the news from those Santa Ana winds and they would scare me!

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  4. Us GBGVs are pretty fearless. I sleep through everything, but big guard dog Katie is a quivering mess with thunder or fireworks. Since it is usually at night, she just comes upstairs and hides in the bathroom that doesn't have any windows and goes to sleep. Mom has comforted her on occasion, but she is content to just be in the safety of the windowless bathroom.

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