It’s that time of year! Thunderstorms loom in most weekly forecasts. Independence Day is just around the corner. What does that mean for some dogs? It definitely doesn’t mean a good time! Shaking, pacing, hiding, barking, panting, and even destruction are some of the behaviors your dog will likely display when he is stressed. Here are a few tips to help your dog, and you, through these times of tension.
- DO NOT CODDLE YOUR DOG! Trust me…I understand this is a natural behavior for us humans. We naturally want to make everything better for our furry family members. Believe it or not, soothing your dog with petting and saying “It’s okay” encourages the anxiety. To dogs, they hear, “It’s okay to be scared. Keep shaking.” They do not understand we are trying to calm them during storms or fireworks. Our affection and words are a form of praise to encourage the behaviors we want. If you want your dog to continue to frantically pace and shake, by all means stroke their back and tell them everything will be okay. But I have a sneaky suspicion you would rather ease your dog’s anxiety instead of feeding it.
- IT’S NO BIG DEAL! If you are one of my Paw Parents, you have probably heard me refer to treating certain stimulants as being “no big deal”. What I mean by this is if you don’t make a big deal out of something, it is likely your dog will follow suit. I understand it isn’t that simple, but you get the idea. When a clap of thunder comes rolling your way and your dog looks at you wide-eyed, keep a calm attitude. Remember, do not say “It’s okay.” Instead, try saying “What’s up, Cooper. It’s no big deal.” Be very nonchalant in your tone and look away after you say it. If your dog is trying out his inner monkey and attempting to climb up your leg, very casually walk away and repeat the phrase above. To some of you this may seem callous or insensitive, but it isn’t. You are actually helping your dog.
- LET’S PLAY! In addition to acting like the thunder and fireworks are no big deal, keep your dog’s mind occupied. There are a multitude of options available, but that is a separate post in itself! I like to give my dogs mind stimulating toys to help them ignore the scary noises. One of my favorite toys is the Kong® Wobbler. This was originally intended for dogs that eat too fast, which works quite well. I like the Wobbler because the bottom is weighted and dogs have to knock it on its side to get to treat out. If not done quick enough or at the right angle the Wobbler pops back up and no treat is dispensed. For those of us cool enough to remember think “Weeble Wobble” or “Bop Bag”. Find treats that are not round, but more of an odd shape to keep the toy more challenging. I like to use Zuke’s Mini Bakes®. Of course the treat size is going to depend on the size Wobbler you choose. Experiment and have fun!
- NATURAL CALM! Dr. Nicholas Dodman and his colleague Dr. Linda Aronson of the behavioral division at Tufts New England Veterinary Medical Center discovered melatonin is a natural calming agent for dogs. Melatonin is not known to put your dog to sleep, but rather calm them enough to not be bothered by the sound of thunder or fireworks. Melatonin is sold in capsules and tablets in health food stores, pharmacies and some supermarkets. I recommend tablets if there is a need to cut the dose of a tablet in half. For most dogs, Aronson recommends 3 milligrams (mg). In a few cases, dogs weighing over one hundred pounds needed 6 mg. but that was unusual. This roughly translates to 1 mg/15-20 lbs. It’s important to read the labels on melatonin bottles very carefully. Some are mixed with herbs or nutrients that may not be safe for dogs. Make sure you buy the correct dosage for your size dog. Remember, there are 1,000 micrograms (mcg) in a milligram (mg). Please check with your veterinarian before administering melatonin to your dog.
- THE RIGHT HUG! I understand I said above not to coddle your dog, but I did not say you couldn’t swaddle your dog. Tightly wrapping your dog, as you would an infant, has been proven to reduce anxious behavior in some dogs. You can try something as simple as tightly wrapping a t-shirt or ace bandage around your dog’s body. There is also the Thunder Shirt™ which is easier to put on and might fit more appropriately versus the homemade options.
I hope some of these tips will tickle your fancy and you will try one out soon. I bet you will even find yourself reaching for your dog to coddle him during a storm, but stopping. Instead you’ll stay strong and act like it’s no big deal!
One final note: please do not leave your dog outside during thunderstorms and fireworks. More dogs go missing on Independence Day than any other day, followed by days that have had severe storms. Get your dog microchipped to be safe as collars and tags often fall off. Also, please do not try desensitization unless you have a professional present. This is a delicate process and if done incorrectly it can make the anxiousness worse.
Chrissie Dugas, CPDT-KA is the owner of Paw It Forward Training, LLC and an active member in the canine community. To learn more about her and the company, please visit www.pawitforwardtraining.com or call (281) 841-1963.