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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Thunderstorms and Fireworks: Helping Your Dog Cope

One of the most common dog issues I run into is that of fear of thunder and fireworks. "First Alert Xena" is my thunderstorm alarm dog. She must feel the vibrations in the ground, because she can alert us to a storm coming far before tour weather alert radio sounds its annoying alarm. They should hire her!

As soon as Xena begins to show anxiety, I know what's coming. She only has this one phobia, so it's easy to read her. Here are the steps we take at my house to calm the crazy beast BEFORE she destroys the house:

  • First and foremost, if I know there are storms coming, I try to get her out for a long walk before she gets tense. She won't go outside, if the sky is gray, so I have to beat her to the punch.
  • Tiring her out goes a long way to helping her stay calmer. Not CALM, mind you, but less anxious. There's a fine line there.
  • In the wild, dogs who are anxious about thunder, burrow into the ground, digging a den to hunker down in till the storm passes. We have created a sanctuary much like this with a crate in a dark room. We learned long ago, that windows don't cut it for Xena. She needs darkness and the crate to settle herself.
  • Turning on music, fairly loud, is a strategy we have used in the past. It may help some, but because she seems to sense the storm from the ground, it isn't as helpful for Xena as it might seem. Try it with your dog. If it helps, that's great.
  • Finally, the attitude with which we handle the situation is an important component. No affection or soothing "poor baby" stuff. That would just encourage the behavior. We matter-of-factly take her to her crate and close the gate. Departing without affection is part of how we show Xena that this stormy noise is nothing to worry about. It's sort of like leading by example.
  • Knowing she is contained helps her to calm herself, and she'll settle into a corner of the crate and wait it out. Food, water, toys and chewies are all forms of affection that have no place in this scenario. Xena will ignore them anyway. Some dogs might take them, and assume (of course, this assumes that a dog can assume) this is encouragement of their anxious behavior. Not a good idea.

Good luck getting through the Independence Day weekend. I hope these tips help you and your dog to manage the fear factor. If you'd like to learn more techniques, you might check out this book. I've heard good things...


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