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Dog Phobias: It Doesn't Take Much

Updated on October 8, 2015
Bob Bamberg profile image

Bob has been in the pet supply business and writing about pets, livestock and wildlife in a career that spans three decades.

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After a night of strong thunderstorm activity I encountered a friend while on my daily walk at sunup. "It wasn't bad enough that we had the kids in bed with us all last night," she said in explaining her haggard appearance, "but we had the dog with us, too!"

Sound familiar? A lot of folks have to deal with dogs that are afraid of thunder and other loud noises, generally referred to as “thunder phobia” (back on the block we just called it ligyrophobia). What’s more, it frequently happens that those fears create other fears, thereby compounding the problem.

For instance, a dog that is afraid of thunder storms may develop a fear of things associated with the storm; things that we don’t give a second thought to such as gusty winds, the sun going behind clouds, or the lightning-like flash on our cameras. Dogs who don’t like the sound of leaf blowers may develop a fear of the person who uses one.

You can get conflicting information on how to deal with this problem, and may try a number of possibilities through the process of elimination. But depending upon how your dog expresses those fears, you may want to seek professional help right away.

I know a couple that spent nearly $4,000 on sessions with animal behaviorists at a veterinary college. After trying everything in their bag of tricks the professionals reluctantly recommend euthanasia because Reilly turned so vicious during loud events.

He would lunge at anyone within reach if he heard thunder, sirens, car horns, and any number everyday things that made loud noises. It broke their hearts, but because an attack could occur at any moment, they feared for their safety, and that of their grandchildren, and did put him to sleep.

The one thing that just about all the experts agree on, however, is that you should not try to soothe your dog during a thunderstorm or any other loud events that frighten him. His behavior may become frantic, aggressive or destructive and experts caution that attempting to soothe him will be interpreted by the dog as rewarding that behavior.

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So, what do you do? Well, you can try distracting him by playing games that he likes or offering special treats that he only gets on rare occasions.

I wouldn't feed him the treat directly, though. It's safer to put it in his food dish or on the floor. Should a clap of thunder occur while there's a pig's ear between your fingers, you could get bitten.

Make note of where your dog goes, or tries to go, when frightening noises happen. You might be able to create a safe haven at that location.

It must be a place where the dog feels safe; not necessarily where you think he’ll feel safe. Don’t force him to go to a spot.

Another suggestion that cropped up fairly often is to play the radio, TV or stereo at a volume that will help drown out the noise of the thunder.

Personally, I'm surprised at that suggestion. Isn’t the prudent advice to unplug those appliances during an electrical storm?

If Boomer thinks thunder is a bummer, wait 'til he feels the lightning.

The stereo can otherwise be a useful tool, though. There are a number of "Sounds of Nature" type albums on the market which invariably include thunderstorms.

Try playing those softly and giving him small treats or engaging him in a favorite activity at the same time. You may be able to gradually increase the volume and eventually condition him to accept the offending noise.

There's also some science that you should keep in mind regarding loud noises.

A dog's hearing is far more sensitive than a human's, so besides the fact that a sound is louder to the dog, it also may cause some discomfort.

Just because the thunder you heard sounded distant and not loud at all, your dog is likely to have heard it louder.

He may even be able to hear thunder you can’t even hear yet.

Then there are the more obscure considerations that create gray areas among experts, most of whom agree that dogs react to certain invisible stimuli.

Things such as detecting changes in barometric pressure or the theory that electrically charged air emits high frequency sounds that dogs can hear but we can't.

If theory is truth, these can explain odd canine behavior when there seems to be no underlying reason for it.

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If anyone in the house is frightened of thunder and reacts accordingly, the dog will pick up on it, which may inflame the situation. They're experts at reading body language, even subtle cues, so it would be helpful if everyone stays calm during storms or other dog-frightening events.

Thunder phobia is an issue that shouldn't be tackled alone. The prudent advice is to start with your veterinarian. There are prescription medications that may help for short periods of time, you might ask about herbal remedies that have produced positive results and there are behavior modification techniques that they can discuss with you.

Together you may work out a plan that combines a number of things, or they may eventually refer you to a board certified animal behaviorist.

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    • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Bob Bamberg 

      6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Jaye,

      Southern Mississippi took the steam out of Isaac for you. They're good that way :) Glad you came out unscathed. Heavy metal is very un-relaxing to me, too. I'm a smooth jazz guy. I liked disco back in the day but I think I must have been the only one. I'm sorry disco became a punch line. Loved Donna Summer and felt sad when she passed a few months ago.

      Hi Christy,

      I think the bathtub or shower enclosure is a popular spot for thunder phobic dogs. Maybe it's because they feel secure in a tight space. Moving from AK to the deep south must have been a real climate shock for you. I'll bet you traded your mukluks for flip flops! Thanks for visiting and commenting.

      Regards to you both, Bob

    • ChristysWorld profile image

      Christy 

      6 years ago from The Deep South

      Very Interesting Bob. Thanks. Hey we recently moved south from Alaska and you know up north there is not thunder storms. Well I have a golden retriever that I adore. She has taken to, all by herself, going into the shower when the thunder storms come. Isn't that weird? She stays there through the whole storm. Or near me, whatever is more comforting to her. Dogs teach us so many things.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 

      6 years ago from Deep South, USA

      We got off light from Isaac here in central Mississippi--only rain and wind. Thanks!

      Regarding the CD, the little book that came with it explained how various types of music affect dogs, and you're right--heavy metal is very un-relaxing to them.

      Jaye

    • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Bob Bamberg 

      6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Jaye, I hope Isaac didn't treat you too badly! Thanks for your input. I wasn't familiar with the CD; it's good to know about it. I would think a slow tempo piano piece could be soothing to a dog. I bet music with screaming guitar riffs and other high-pitched sounds is extremely irritating to animals with exceptional hearing.

      Thanks for stopping by and contributing to the info stream.

    • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Bob Bamberg 

      6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Good point, Ann, and one that I should have included. I'll edit the hub to include the fact that, as experts at interpreting body language, dogs immediately pick up on one's demeanor and a spazzed out pack leader can only inflame the situation. I love thunderstorms but we only get them a handful times a year here. Thanks for commenting and voting.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 

      6 years ago from Deep South, USA

      It was stormy here last night, no thunder, but lots of wind and rain with things going "bump" outside in the night as the wind tossed them around.

      My dog was calmly resting, then sleeping as her CD "Through a Dog's Ear" played softly in a loop while I read. This playlist of short segments of classical music with slow tempo (in most cases, slower than originally composed) and played with just a piano is very soothing to dogs. I'm so glad I found it. It's restful to me as well, and by the time it's cycled three or four times I'm usually ready to turn out the light and go to sleep myself.

      "Through a Dog's Ear" works to soothe dogs during fireworks and other stressful events.

    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 

      6 years ago from Orange, Texas

      Interesting information, Bob. I think it helps, too, for the owner to stay calm. Dogs sense us when we're frightened. A lot of people are scared of thunder, too.

      Good advice and voted up.

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