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Help Your Dog Overcome Fear of Thunder

Updated on August 21, 2009

Our Josie

Experiencing a rare snowfall in Alabama
Experiencing a rare snowfall in Alabama

Wish I Had Seen These Books When Josie Was Living

It's No Laughing Matter

At first it was kind of cute when Josie needed to come inside during thunderstorms. My husband,then boyfriend, explained to me that he always let her inside and she was fine just laying on her puppy bed until the storm passed.

Years later (around the age of 9) Josie's fear had escalated. My husband had tried the stern approach not letting her upstairs as she shook begging to be let in. I would demand that she be let in because she should not be punished for her fear. I had begun to read up on dog phobias by this point. She would come inside and continue to shake while laying on her puppy bed.

As time progressed, she would no longer remain on her bed. She would shake uncontrollably and try to bury herself under me while clawing. It's as if she didn't know what to do. I tried hugging her and petting. I tried playing with her in a happy tone. Following are some methods I tried.

1. Playing with her.

2. Turning on stereo to block out thunder noise.

3. Playing soothing music such as Pachabel's Cannon.

4. I put her in my husband or I's dirty teeshirt to see if your scent would calm her down. It worked a teeny bit.

5. I tried putting ear muffs on her.

6. I bought some pheramone spray that was supposed to put out same smell mother dog puts out to calm her puppies. It did not work.

7. I called a behavior specialist who suggested a hidey hole. I made one, no dice.

8. I bought Melatonin and it gave her diarrhea.

8. I gave her acepromazine from the vet. It worked for a while...but not for the sudden storms that would pop up.

9. The vet finally gave me valium after the acepromazine stopped helping. The valium didn't work either.

Meanwhile, our other Dane was calm and collected through each storm. Josie, however, became uncontrollable. Jumping up on me during my third trimester of pregnancy. We had to resort to chaining her in the basement to a pole. She would whimper. She also chewed through several leashes. Finally we used a metal cable covered with plastic. She began to urinate and deficate in our basement uncontrollably during each storm. We were awakened at night by storms and we had to quickly leave work if a storm popped up. It was a nightmare. However, we kept dealing with it. My husband and I loved her tons. He caught some sort of parasite cleaning up after her mess in the basement that lasted for about 2 months.

After I had our baby girl we began to fear the germs on the basement floor might somehow be tracked inside. My husband was constantly bleaching the floor in the basement after each thunderstorm. About this time, we also noticed a decline in Josie's ability to walk. Her very expensive arthritis medication was upped in dose, but still she was in a great deal of pain. I had to help support her when she needed to go to the bathroom. I also had to help her up the stairs into our home to sleep at night. I would walk her around front to where there were only 2 steps up to our door. She would flop down on her puppy bed and never move. It hurt too much.

This pain combined with the thunderstorm season is what led us to finally make the difficult decision to put her down. I took her myself because my husband could not bear it. It was a sad sad day. I didn't realize it would be that difficult for me as she died on the floor in the vet's office with me holding her and petting her. I greived for about a month and even still get sad when I look at her box of cremated remains. We keep her in our room since she always liked sleeping on her bed next to ours.

I am now beginning to notice some slightly fearful behaviors in our other Dane, Abbey. I write this article to warn you that you should not reinforce the fearful behavior in your dog by babying your pooch and petting them when they are afraid. It can lead to worse fear in the future as it did with Josie. Don't reinforce negative behavior. I have learned this from watching Cesar Milan. I have never seen him do a show on a dog with thunder phobia. I suppose it is because it's nearly impossible to overcome. With Abbey I talk positive and play ball with her during the storm (if I can- I am also taking care of a baby). I spray the pheramone I have in the air. It seems to help. I am praying she will not turn out like Josie did. Perhaps if I address it now, rather than waiting until it escalates we will have a happier ending.

If your dog is the least bit fearful of thunder, I urge you to take control of the situatuion before it exacerbates. If you can reprogram your dog's thinking, it will help. If they become too fearful, as Josie did, practically nothing helps to turn the situation around by this time.

Comments -What has worked for you?

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    • Mary Small profile image

      Mary Small 

      8 years ago

      I have a dog that is scared during storms. I just got the Thundershirt and he has worn it about five times so far and is calming down a bit (each time he seems a little bit better).

      His phobia just started about a year or so ago, so I think it helped that I caught it in the early stages. But the Thundershirt does work for us.

    • Et al... profile imageAUTHOR

      Et al... 

      8 years ago

      Joyce,

      Please let me know if Thundershirt works. My other Dane, Abbey, is getting much worse now. I hate to relive this awful saga again.

      Thank you,

      Michele

    • profile image

      Joyce 

      8 years ago

      I have that problem with a small Australian Terrier we got from the shelter. I have ordered a product called a thundershirt that is supposed to help. It puts a gently pressure on the dogs stomach and is supposed to calm them down immediately. I hope it works as I now give him valium and it works but I don't like to use it long term as you don't know what the side effects are.

    • profile image

      Lia 

      8 years ago

      It's a sad sad story...

      I am sorry that you and your dog had to go through this.

      Hope she is in a good place now.

      Thank you for sharing this story with everyone.

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