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Helping your dog during thunderstorms

How to eleviate some of your dog's bad weather stress

Radio interview source: Dr. Kari Wallentine, veterinarian, Kansas State University

Listen here for the radio story

 

Why so scared?

Why do some dogs fear thunderstorms? Nobody's quite sure. It could be the flash of lightening, the loud noise, or even sensitivity to changes in air pressure. In extreme cases, dogs have been known to jump through glass windows during storms. Others will hide, throw-up or mess all over the floor.

When I was a kid, we had a Chesapeake Bay retriever named Johnny who would hide under our station wagon whenever a storm rolled through. One night Mom went out to take us kids to our grandparents' during some rough weather, and she backed over Johnny, breaking his jaw. Fortunately, the vet was able to pin it back together, and Johnny lived for several more years.

Veterinarian Dr. Kari Wallentine at Kansas State University is working on a Master's degree in animal behavior. Her dog, a greyhound named Anna, hides in the closet during storms and she lets her stay there.

"The best thing for owners to do is try and ignore the fearful behavior even though at times depending on what the dog is doing, that can be really difficult," Wallentine says. "But we know that punishing a dog's fearful behavior or even reinforcing it by reassuring the dog can both lead to increased fear so those are two things we want to try not to do."

What to do

Remain as neutral as possible. Any out-of-the-normal behavior can justify his anxiety. After all, something must be wrong or his human wouldn't be making such a fuss. If the dog becomes frantic and might be injured or cause damage, you may need a good means of confining the dog. Sometimes a secluded crate works, if he's been conditioned to rest calmly in a crate.

One way to teach him not to be afraid is by desensitizing him with recordings of thunderstorms.

"Start with a very, very low volume of that tape and very gradually over days or even weeks increase that volume," Wallentine says. "And what we want to do is maintain relaxation in that dog and if at any point if we see they become fearful, we want to either back off on that volume or just shut it off and try again another day."

You're teaching him to be calm and relaxed when this noise is in the background. If he does stay calm, reward him.

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