GREYHOUNDS AND THUNDER PHOBIA
If you have ever had a Greyhound that fears thunder, you know it can be miserable, for them and for you. About 15%-30% of dogs have some sort of storm anxiety, and some breeds are more susceptible, like herding dogs and hounds. Here are some ideas on the causes and also some practical tips to help you and your dog cope with thunderstorm season.
Thunderstorms are a source of stress and anxiety in many dogs. They can cause some dogs to pant, pace, whine, tremble, hide, or become clingy. Others may have full-blown panic attacks, digging at doors and windows, eliminating inside the house, or even chewing on their own paws or tails. Why do some dogs freak out during a thunderstorm? There are several likely reasons:
The most obvious cause would seem to be the loud boom of thunder, whether a faraway rumble that dogs can no doubt hear even before we do or the deafening crack of a storm right overhead. Think how intense it must be for a species with super-sensitive hearing.
Besides thunder, dogs may also react to one or more other storm-associated triggers. These can include flashes of lightning, strong wind, the heavy pounding of rain, or a sharp change in barometric pressure. The presence of increased ozone in the air, a side-effect of lightning, may cause some dogs to associate ozone’s metallic odor with other scary elements of storms. Finally, the buildup of static electricity can be uncomfortable or even painful.
First, it’s important to remember that fear responses are not voluntary; that is, a dog doesn’t decide to feel and exhibit fear of storms. The amygdala, a part of the brain which processes both negative and positive emotions, is a part of the central nervous system that is not under voluntary control.
Here are some tricks to help keep your hound calm when a storm is on the horizon.
Your presence during a storm is helpful because most dogs tend to panic even more if they are alone. And if you are home, you can at least monitor the situation and avoid returning to a house torn apart by an anxious dog. Therefore, one of the most basic things you can do is try to be WITH your dog whenever storms are predicted or actually occur. Easier said than done sometimes, I know.
Create a Safe Space
When a storm is coming, the best place for your dog is inside. This is true physically to protect them from the inclement weather but also emotionally. Your dog will feel calmer inside their familiar environment.
If you use a crate for your Greyhound when you aren't home, putting your dog in the crate when a storm is coming can help keep them calm. You may also want to cover the crate with a light blanket to help block out the flashes of light and absorb some of the sound from the storm. If your dog still displays signs of anxiety, consider leaving the crate door open so that he doesn't feel trapped and start to panic.
For dogs who aren't used to being crated, having their own quiet corner of the house can give them some place to go when they're scared. A comfy dog bed in an interior room without a lot of windows (make sure to close any blinds or curtains) is a good bet. You could put a “nest” of old blankets and pillows in a closet. You may also want to put a few favorite toys and his water bowl nearby so your dog has everything he needs and doesn't have to go out until the storm has passed.
Some dogs prefer a bathroom, especially the bathtub or shower. It’s important to teach the dog to go to the safe haven on cue. The safe haven should always be available to the dog, in case a storm occurs when he’s alone at home.
Distraction is another great technique if your dog is afraid of storms. Turn the TV on and the volume up to block the sound of thunder or play some calming music. https://bit.ly/MusictoCalmYourDog White noise or a fan or A/C may also camouflage scary sounds. Turning on some lights will minimize the appearance of lightning flashes. You may also want to have a special toy that only comes out during storms so it holds your dog's attention better.
Be Calm Yourself
Your own emotional reactions and responses are also very key. Despite what you may be feeling inside, it’s essential not to convey anger, frustration, or exasperation to your dog –this will only worsen the situation. Instead, you want to project a very calm, matter-of-fact, upbeat attitude, one that communicates, “Yes, it’s storming outside, but you are not going to be hurt, and you don’t need to be afraid or anxious.” Encourage your dog to look to you for security and reassurance, but do not be overly protective, or making a big deal out of the dog’s fear. “Comfort, don’t coddle” should be your guideline.
Change Your Dog’s Attitude and Perception
Behavior modification is always worth a try, although its success is likely to depend on how severe your dog’s issues are with storms and how long he or she has been suffering with those issues. The two techniques generally employed are called counter conditioning and desensitization – they are closely related and often used hand-in-hand. To be very honest, both techniques are difficult, take time, and are not guaranteed to work. But if you want to try, here is a bare-bones explanation:
Counter conditioning involves changing your dog’s emotional reaction to a scary or unpleasant experience. Somewhere along the line, a thunderphobic dog has learned to associate the sounds, sights, and sensations of a thunderstorm with something bad; they have become conditioned to think that storm = bad stuff. Thus, as a storm begins to brew, the dog’s anxiety automatically kicks in – it’s not something over which they have control. Our job is to reverse that association, i.e., to counter condition the dog to think that storm = good stuff. To do that, you pair the scary experience (the storm) with something the dog really likes or enjoys. You can feed him super tasty treats, play a favorite game in the house, go for a car ride (if safe), or anything else that your dog typically enjoys. Partly you are distracting him from the storm, but more importantly you are teaching him that a storm predicts something fun or happy going on, not something scary. This is difficult unless you are always home in case of storm.
Desensitization is the process of using repeated exposure to an object or experience to reduce or eliminate the fear associated with it. The fear-inducing object or experience must be presented in gradually increasing intensity over time, so the person or animal basically learns to “get used to it.“ Unfortunately, there is no good evidence to support the idea that dogs can be desensitized to storms. This is probably because it is simply impossible to replicate all the sensory stimuli of a real storm with a CD of storm sounds. The low barometric pressure, the rain, the humidity, the lightning, and the smell of ozone from lightning strikes cannot be imitated.
In some cases, your dog may need a little extra help staying calm. The following aids help some, but not all, dogs.
Calming supplements like Purina's Calming Care Canine Probiotic Supplement can help your dog better cope with external stressors such as thunderstorms and maintain a calm demeanor. Rescue Remedy or Calms Forte are oral homeopathic remedies for anxiety, sold for people but safe for pets as well. Calms Forte was the #1 go-to for our Greyhound, Sunny. Available at health food stores, larger grocery stores, or online. You can also try Lavender essential oil for calming – put a bit on their bed, rub some on your hands then pet them, or sprinkle on a dog bandanna.
Some dogs are comforted by a body wrap – a snug garment that puts gentle pressure on your hound’s torso, much like swaddling helps calm an infant. Try a small T-shirt, or wrap an Ace bandage. For DIY solutions, search “anxiety wrap” or “compression shirt” on YouTube. Some dogs seem comforted by wearing a Thundershirt (which has a money back guarantee). Others find these kinds of apparel distressing, and they shouldn’t be made to wear them.
Try Adaptil (formerly called DAP), dog-appeasing pheromones. DAP is a synthetic chemical based on a hormone that’s produced by lactating female dogs. It’s this hormone that helps keep puppies calm, and can help calm your anxious dog. DAP products are available in plug-in diffusers and room sprays for their environment, plus infused collars and topical sprays. All are odorless to humans and other pets. Available at pet stores and online.
If the panic state of your Greyhound is too strong and all attempts to help your dog to survive this stress are useless, then you need a consultation with the veterinarian. For many dogs with moderate or severe storm phobia, antianxiety medication is essential to manage the dog safely. Panicky dogs can damage homes, injuring themselves in the process. Some dogs will jump through screens or even windows in their fright. They may be injured doing this, and, if they run away, they may be hit by vehicles. Discuss this with your vet and you will be able to find some solutions.
Most dog owners seem to consider prescription medication the “last resort” and want to try other suggested treatment or management options first. “I don’t want to drug my dog,” is a common concern voiced. There is certainly merit to this position since any medication can have side effects and should be used judiciously. And yet, many dogs can attain very significant relief with prescription medication, greatly increasing not only their quality of life, but that of their human family members as well.
And if you come across a helpful hint or solution not listed here, please tell us so we can pass it on to other adopters and dog owners!
You may also be interested in our previous article https://bit.ly/FireworksFear