BILLY’S owner was at his wits’ end. “I don’t know what it is,” he said, “but whenever there’s a thunderstorm in the offing, he becomes a nervous wreck!”
I sympathised. Experts don’t know whether it’s atmospheric pressure changes, static electricity, or low frequency rumbles, but dogs can sense a storm coming well before we do, and for many it’s a very distressing experience.
We instinctively want to comfort our pets when they’re upset, but it can end up just reinforcing their reaction. So try to begin training before the thunder starts.
While indoors, practice getting your dog to come and lie down, rewarding the calm behaviour with a treat, and they’re more likely to respond to you once the storm is raging.
You can get recordings of thunder to help desensitise your dog, but many can readily distinguish these from the real thing.
During a storm, some pets can be distracted with toys or treats, or by having music playing, while others may appreciate having a dark crate to retreat into, but leave the door open, as their panic may increase if confined. Your vet can recommend an animal therapist if you need further advice. Some owners have found Thundershirts helpful; these are tight-fitting garments that are said to have a calming effect similar to swaddling a baby.
Other natural remedies include a soothing pheromone and a milk protein which is known to calm suckling infants and can also help nervous pets.
These are available over the counter, and your vet will be able to advise you on their use.
If your pet is really suffering, then your vet may recommend a prescription medication, but always try and use it alongside some training techniques, so your pet does not have to rely on it too much.
You may have to try various approaches to see what works best for your dog.
Billy responded well to his pheromone collar, but I’m sure the extra treats didn’t go amiss either!