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New Mexico Thunderstorms

Thunderstorms

You’ve probably been loving all this rain we’ve been getting (power outages notwithstanding), but your pooches might not feel the same. Nothing turns my 85 pound German Shepherd into a cowering lap dog faster than a few thunderclaps. Storm phobias can often get worse over time, and this can also be a learned behavior. A new dog to the household with thunderstorm anxiety can cause your other dogs to start acting the same way. Here are some tips to ease your dog’s noise and thunderstorm anxiety. There usually isn’t a single fix all solution to this type of phobia; one thing may work for one dog and not for another, and most dogs frequently require a combination of the below. – Dr.Gonzales

1.) Medication, either daily or as needed. Schedule an appointment or give us a call to discuss options for prescription anxiety medications or sedatives. Frequently when you’re first starting to work on your dog’s storm phobia they will really benefit from some type of a prescription anxiolytic. We will prescribe one of many medication options based on your pet’s health, the degree of their anxiety, and a review of any other medications or supplements they’re taking. Most of these work better if given at least 30-60 minutes prior to the start of the storm, so attention to the weather forecast is important!

2.) Over the counter calming supplements. Be sure to discuss these if your pet is taking any other medications, or if we’re planning to prescribe an anxiolytic. Some supplements, like VetriScience, Composure and Solliquin, contain compounds that help take the edge off of minor anxiety symptoms. DAP (dog appeasement pheromone) collars and sprays can also have a calming effect. These can be a little hit or miss, and will likely require more than just one of these for effective management.

3.) Thundershirt. Like the DAP and anxiety supplements, these can also be hit or miss. But it’s worth giving one a try; this one really seems to make a huge difference for some dogs. You can find these at pet stores like Petsmart or online.

4.) Train your pet to have a “safe zone.” With counterconditioning (covered below), this can also make a big difference but takes more time. This may be a covered kennel (open or closed) for some dogs, or a mat or rug for others depending of if they become more anxious in a kennel. Teach your dog to relax on a mat or in a kennel using positive reinforcement techniques such as luring, capturing, and shaping.

● Luring: Handsfree prompting involving a reward to guide your dog into the desired location

● Capturing: Rewarding your dog for a spontaneous behavior (over on the mat or in the kennel) when you see the behavior

● Shaping: Building a new behavior by selectively reinforcing small approximations of the desired behavior; incremental steps are rewarded, previous approximations are extinguished, and the desired behavior is achieved. Reward your dog with praise and a treat when he lies on the mat and gradually learns relaxing postures (eg, lowering his head, breathing slowly, lying with his hind end to the side, lying on his side). When a storm is imminent, your dog should be given medication, directed to his mat/kennel in the safe zone, and rewarded with a long lasting food puzzle or chew bone.

5.) Counterconditioning. Some people initially see this as rewarding a negative behavior, but in reality you’re helping to shift a negative experience (fear from the thunderstorms) into a positive experience (treat time!). Similar to teaching your dog to relax in a safe zone, use long lasting food puzzles or chew bones, play with a favorite toy etc to distract your dog during a storm. They’ll slowly learn that thunderstorms equals something positive for them.

6.) Desensitization. There are many commercial CDs (or downloadables on iTunes) available that can play thunderstorm noises. The idea is to start at a lower noise level and gradually increase the volume while your dog learns to remain calm. You may have to try a couple different versions; one may not incite a fear response at a normal level while another one will. The gradual increase of volume should be done over several sessions, and if at any point your dog becomes fearful of the noise, take a step back and start at a lower noise level. Remember to reward your dog for being calm.

Be sure to be calm and patient with your pet. Avoid punishing fearful behavior, as this tends to only increase their fear and worsen the problem. Over time noise anxieties can improve significantly or disappear altogether with the appropriate time and management techniques, so don’t give up!