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Thunderstorms and our dogs continued

In last weeks article I included the first of three methods of treating our dogs for their fear of thunderstorms. This week I will continue with the two other methods that owners may consider.

Method 2 Protecting your dog from exposure during a storm

Trying to protect our dogs from such storms, we need to know which elements are causing them concern. My own dog Rolly, he was already wandering round the house hours before we knew it was coming. It was possible he was more affected by the drop in air pressure, so for him there was nowhere to run to.

Certainly, the noise did have some effect and as the storm drew closer; his place of refuge was always our hallway. Being in the centre of the house with double doors at each end, this probably muffled the sound of the storm enough for him than any other place in our house.

It is important to allow your dog to choose where it wishes to hide, rather than forcing it into a place that you would choose thinking that it is better.

Some dogs will hide under beds, in cupboards, whiles others hide in the bathroom and even in the bath itself. The bathroom could be a refuge from the static charge in the air as here the air is moist and the room earthed by all the plumbing. If you have a dog that has a crate then you could find your dog wishing to retreat here. It is possible that the crate will act like a Faraday cage, giving the dog protection from the electrostatic charge.

There is a suggestion that wrapping your dog in a tee shirt and binding it has had some success. This may also be reducing the static charge the dog feels in its fur.

Another option that seems to have some success is to take your dog for a drive in your car during the storm. Again, this too would possibly reduce the static. This together with the noise of the car along with some music and your non-anxious presence does seem to have a calming effect. Driving may also be allowing the dog to feel that it is in fleeing mode, which most dogs wish for most of all.

Some dogs in fleeing mode have jumped right through glass windows and doors just to escape the home. We would naturally think the dog would feel safer here. The problem with escaping dogs in a storm, the rain destroys the scent signature of the area. Therefore, the dogs become disorientated and unable to find their way home again, once the storm has passed. Other problems of run away dogs are they can be injured by vehicles or be the cause of accidents.

Certainly drawing thick curtains and closing shutters over windows and doors will help reduce the intensity of the storm in the house. It is also helpful to turn up the television or radio. There is also the possibility of using a compact disc recording of White Noise, as this appears to neutralise the external sound, offering some relief to the dog.

One good trick is if you know a storm is due, purchase a roast chicken, or grill food in your kitchen. This may well take your dogs mind off the storm when it is sensing the cooking smell, along with eating many treats.

For Rolly, we let him find his own place of safety and always offered him food treats. Over the years, using this method plus his love for hunting, he gradually lost his fear of storms, but it was a gradual process.

Method 3 Vets and drugs to help calm your dog

Like many other people, I suffer from seasickness. We all know there are medicines that can help us rather than having to spend a long time desensitising ourselves. Looking at this sensibly, one would expect that giving drugs to our dogs would work just as well.

One worrying point that Nasli, the Radio vet made on the Mary Harboe show on REM, was about the drugs used to sedate a dog during thunderstorms. These will only stop it running away or from hurting itself as it chases madly round the house. This means that the dog may still be aware of the storm but is unable to go into fleeing mode. There is also the worrying possibility of a partly drugged dog that has escaped, only for the drug to take full effect when it is lost outside in the storm. For us as humans, both such scenarios must sound like further torture.

Another point is that such drugs may or may not work, but they need administering at least twenty minutes before the onset of the storm. Giving some drugs once the dog is already in a distressed state can actually stop them taking effect.

Bearing in mind the forgoing, the following drugs may seem to be useful.

There is a hormone called Melatonin, which increases the natural Serotonin production, which in turn reduces dopamine. Both these are important neuron-transmitters involved in behaviour. Whilst this drug is to cure insomnia in humans, it appears to have a dramatic affect on dogs by suddenly stopping them being afraid, yet does not put them to sleep.

Paul, who was listening to the show, phoned in to suggest the homeopathic remedies like Star of Bethlehem, Mimulus, and Clomicalm. There is also Rock Rose, Aspen and many others, all of which have been in use for many years.

One point we must not forget is, before giving your dogs any medicine please first check with your vet if it is actually beneficial. Vets know the good and bad effects of each drug along with the so-called harmless herbal remedies that you can purchase over the counter. Getting the right drug and the right dosage is so important, so please do not experiment on your dog without their guidance.

It is almost impossible to protect a dog from the awesome spectacle of a thunderstorm. In addition, we must be aware that dogs interpret our heartfelt anxiety as our own fear of the storm, so only reinforcing theirs.

As far as using drugs are concerned, Nasli felt they may be effective but, in her opinion, they are not the miraculous cure that people would hope they are.

We must accept that dogs do not inherit specific fears. We need to teach them how to react correctly. If we can teach police horses, professional and civilian dogs to remain calm when there is gunfire, explosions or to jump through fire, this shows we can train them all. Desensitising works, so we must learn not to show anxiety. Instead, we have to find a happy alternative for any situation they may come across. By such a method, we give them a better alternative than worrying about the storm.

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