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Treating Dog Anxiety | 3 Proven Treatments for Fear of Thunderstorms and Fireworks

How Prevalent is Dog Anxiety for Thunder

Typical dog fear stance: ears back, whites of the 
eyes showing, head lowered and back hunched.
A dog anxiety survey of 2000 dog owners found that approximately 13% of dogs suffer from noise phobias, defined as a persistent, irrational fear response. 

Yet of those surveyed, only one third of the respondents whose dogs exhibited  symptoms had sought any treatment or professional advice to manage their dog's condition.

Furthermore the Bristol survey found that 50% of owners did not recognize that behaviors they reported in response to loud noises were in fact fear related symptoms.

Here are three effective treatments for reducing canine anxiety caused by fireworks, gunshots and thunderstorms.

Noise Sensitive Dogs: Causes of Noise Phobias and Anxiety

Some dogs exhibit fear of loud noises from an early age while others display a sudden or slowly increasing fear of loud noises over time.

Certain breeds, such as the gun dogs, (labs and spaniels) tend to have a higher tolerance for loud noises, while other breeds, such as the border collie, have a high incidence of noise phobia, suggesting there is a genetic component to noise sensitivity.  

As dogs age, their sensitivity to noise may increase, and negative experiences such as being outdoors during a severe thunderstorm can create new phobias where one never before existed.

Once a phobia has developed, particularly regarding thunderstorms, dogs may associate atmospheric changes with the noise. Changes in barometric pressure, increased static in the air and rain alone can trigger the fear response.

Dog Noise Anxiety Symptoms

Dogs with noise phobias may manifest a variety of dog anxiety symptoms.  Symptoms may be obvious, such as panting, pacing, barking, trembling or shaking, drooling, seeking human company or hiding under beds, in bathtubs and behind furniture or toileting in the home.
Less obvious anxiety symptoms that are often misread include increased salivation, licking, urinating or defecating indoors, and in some cases destructive behavior including; carpet and upholstered furniture digging and scratching at doors or walls. 

In severe cases of noise phobia, dogs may become aggressive, resulting growling and biting behavior. It is important to realize that these behaviors are born out of real terror; the dogs are not "acting out."

The good news is, while we can’t control thunderstorms, random gunshots or fireworks, we can take steps to manage our dog’s reaction to the noise stimuli and reduce their anxiety level.  These steps can include removing the dog from the stimuli, natural anti-anxiety medications with desensitization therapy and easy massage therapy. Any combination of these approaches can be applied.

#1 Quick Fix: Remove the Dog From The Stimulus

In instances where we can predict the dog will react to a threatening sound, such as Fourth of July fireworks, we can insulate the dog from the sound.  Basements without windows are the best area of the house to contain the dog.  If the room you select does have windows, close the blinds so he can’t see the bursts of fireworks or lightning which he will have already associated with a corresponding explosion. Turn on music loud enough to drown out the sound of fireworks.

Some dogs may have a preference for hiding in a bathroom, which should be respected. The porcelain and tile in these areas may help dissipate static electricity in the air, and help reduce some of the fear stimulus.

Crate training can also provide a dog with a safe go-to area.  If your dog has been properly crate trained and seeks out his crate as a comfortable rest spot, then the crate should be added to the basement or bathroom for an additional sense of safety.

This is a short term fix; for a long term solution you will need to employ counter conditioning, teaching the dog to be okay with the noises they fear.

#2 Homeopathic Remedy: Melatonin for Dogs with Fear of Thunder and Loud Noises

Melatonin has produced dramatic results for some dogs with fear of thunder.  Melatonin is available over the counter; it is a naturally occurring neuro-hormone, with a number of veterinary uses because of its sedative properties.

Melatonin has been shown to help regulate sleep disorders for older dogs, and can help dogs adjust to stressful situations including separation anxiety and noise phobias. Dogs treated with melatonin prior to a thunderstorm remain awake, alert and relaxed.  They do not appear to be reactive to thunderstorms at all. 

Some dogs can actually permanently overcome their noise phobias with treatment on Melatonin. As dogs remain calm while experiencing the stimulus, they can become desensitized to the sounds and atmospheric changes associated with a thunderstorm.

Proper dosage for a 40-50 pound dog is 3 mg (that is the human adult dose). For small dogs under 30 pounds 1.5 mg and for large dogs over 100 pounds up to 6 mg. These doses may be administered 3 times daily as necessary.

Flower essences such as Rescue Remedy have been shown to be effective in reducing anxiety for nervous show dogs, and can be safely used in conjunction with the melatonin treatment.  The most effective, Rescue Remedy, is the form that is added to their drinking water.

Melatonin Pros:

  • Effective anti-anxiety medication for canine separation anxiety and noise phobias
  • Antioxidant properties may control free radicals
  • May help in controlling epileptic seizures
  • May aid in the treatment of Canine Cushings Disease.
  • Balances sleep disorders, and allows dogs to sleep through the night

Melatonin Side effects

  • May affect female reproductive cycle or make her unreceptive to males
  • Possible drug interactions can occur with medications which the dog is already taking such as sedatives, steroids and monoamine oxidase inhibitors
  • In rare cases some dogs may become excessively lethargic or increasingly nervous

#3 TTouch Massage and The Thunder Shirt for Anxiety

The Thunder Shirt has been proven to reduce the anxiety of many dogs.  Its technology is based on the work of Linda Tellington-Jones and her T Touch Therapy.

The Tellington TTouch  is a method based on circular movements of the fingers and hands on areas all over the dog’s body. The intent of the TTouch is to change the brain waves of the dog by activating “cellular intelligence.”  Additionally, endorphins are believed to be released by the massage technique. Awakening cellular intelligence sounds like hocus pocus, but the therapy does work to help adjust behavioral problems and calm cats, dogs and horses.

According to the TTouch website, “Using a combination of specific touches, lifts, and movement exercises, TTouch helps to release tension and increase body awareness. Allowing the animal to be handled without provoking typical fear responses. The animal can then more easily learn new and more appropriate behaviors.” 

If nothing else, TTouch builds a better rapport between owner and pet, ultimately increasing trust and building self-confidence in the animal.

TTouch can help in cases of:
  • Chewing
  • Excessive Barking
  • Jumping Up
  • Leash Pulling
  • Extreme Fear or Shyness
  • Aggressive Behavior

Here Linda Tellington-Jones demonstrates the TTouch method. It's simple and looks relaxing. 

This therapy can be used in counter-conditioning. Teaching the dog the word "settle" or "relax," while employing TTouch therapy on a regular basis, can aid in settling the dog during a thunderstorm.  Once the dog knows the command, and has associated it with positive experiences, you may be able to apply the technique during an active storm to calm him.  However, you must be careful not to reward nervous and unwanted behavior.  If his anxiety levels begin to increase, you should try a different tactic. Rather than rewarding the behavior with massage, you can use a ThunderShirt to apply the principles of the technique without encouraging nervous behavior.

Other counter conditioning tactics that may be employed include only allowing him to have a favorite treat or toy just prior to and during a thunderstorm. In time the dog will begin to associate thunderstorms with good things. 

The ThunderShirt and Its Replicas
ThunderShirt works by applying gentle pressure to the dog’s body, similar to swaddling an infant. This pressure produces a soothing effect. In fact, the TTouch trainers often use ace bandages wrapped around the dog for an additional calming effect during training sessions.

Some experts believe that ThunderShirt helps the body to naturally release endorphins, and  80% of users report benefits to using ThunderShirt for noise and separation anxiety.

Before using the ThunderShirt, the manufacturer recommends you use the Thundershirt as a placemat for your dog’s food bowl.  Introducing the ThunderShirt in conjunction with food should make the dog more comfortable with the new apparel.  It can be worn all day while you are at work, and is machine washable.

How to put on the ThunderShirt - Easy as 1,2,3

The ThunderShirt does come with a 45 day guarantee. If the shirt does not produce results, you can return it for your full money back.

ThunderShirts can now be purchased in a variety of fashion colors and patterns.  Consider combining them with Melatonin treatments to desensitize your dog to thunderstorms and fireworks.

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