The celebration of July 4th and all things loud and noisy has already begun here in Wisconsin. And so have the thunderstorms. We’ve had at least three major thunderstorms so far, and no doubt more are to come. That’s why the next section summarizes a post from 2009 with specifics about helping noise phobic dogs:
First and Foremost, try Counter Classical Conditioning: In this paradigm (described in a general sense in The Cautious Canine), you pair something the dog adores (food or play best) with a damped down version of what scares him. Your goal is to condition your dog to associate thunder with something he loves, so that his emotional response to the loud noise is “Oh boy!” rather than “Oh No!” To get this to work, you need to start at whatever stimulus first elicits any sign of fear in the dog. Don’t wait til they are terrified and then offer food—it won’t work.
Pheromone Therapy: I’ve had several clients who had good success with Dog Appeasing Pheromone, or DAP, which is an artificial replicate of the pheromone produced between the mammary glands of a lactating bitch. It is species-specific and has no detectable odor and has the huge advantage of requiring you only to buy it and plug it in. Period.
Acupuncture/Acupressure: I’ve never used this specifically for thunder phobia, but as I’ve said earlier, I have used it for a variety of problems with good success.
Wraps: The theory here is that swaddling provides a sense of comfort and safety. More specifically, the speculation is that the continuous neuronal stimulation of the wrap on the dog’s body at minimum distracts him from his fear (a process often called “overshadowing,” in which one stimulus modality dominates an animal’s nervous system) or at best, creates the production of endorphins that de-activate the amygdala and create a sense of calm.
A Safe Place: I wrote in For the Love of a Dog about a dog whose job was to protect acres of vegetables from deer, and who became so afraid of thunder he’d run through the electric fence and risk his life on the county highway. I designed, and the owners built, a ‘safe house’ for him. His dedicated human, Barb, spent many a wild night hunkering in his straw-covered cave giving him chicken in storms. It worked incredibly well, but it took one amazing woman about two months of dashing 200 yards across the lettuce and beans to get to the safe house before the thunder started!
Safe houses can be created inside houses too… I’ve had several clients who did the counter conditioning in a roomy closet or sound-insulated dog house, and ended up with a dog who was still a bit nervous about thunder, but simply went to her safe house and curled up and slept through the storm.
Eliminating Static Electricity: Nicolas Dodman suggested a few years ago that part of a dog’s fear of thunder storms could be due to static electricity. One of the blog readers commented that she, in desperation, wiped her dog’s coat with an anti-static dryer sheet, and that it seemed to help. Interesting… I know that Tufts was doing a study of Storm Defender (a wrap that is designed to dispel static electricity), but I haven’t seen the results yet. Any one seen any studies on this?
The list goes on.... there are so many things that people have tried. Claudeen McAulifee has a good booklet on treatments from homeopathy to flower essences to melatonin, etc. It’s called the Big Bang! and it’s the only booklet I know of exclusively on the topic of noise phobias. She doesn’t talk about counter conditioning, but goes through many different kinds of non-intrusive treatments (including the use of pink light…… interesting!).
And last, but not at all least, Medication: Serious cases of thunder phobia can be life threatening. I’ve had clients whose dogs ran away, and weren’t found for days, and clients whose dogs jumped out of second story windows, mutilating their bodies in the process. I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest that someone talk to their veterinarian about using medication as a supplement to counter conditioning or other methods if their dog has a serious case of noise phobia. In the most serious cases the veterinarians I’ve worked with have prescribed both a tricyclic antidepressant (like clomicalm) and a fast-acting tranquilizer (like diazepam).
Again, for more specifics, go to the original article. (I should add that I mention the CDs of Leeds and Wagner with music supposedly designed for dogs. I’m more skeptical now than before, but welcome your input here.)
You might also want to read my post from last year, which begins with the story of how Pippy Tay possibly saved my life after it was hit by lightening. It includes standing semi-naked in the driveway and realizing that all my volunteer firemen neighbors were about to pull up. What to do? Stand my ground or run back in the house for clothes? My decision is described here.
If relevant to you, please check out the section in the Learning Center about sound sensitivity, including treatment options for thunder and firework-phobic dogs.
By the way, right on schedule, and in spite of “thunder treats”, Maggie did indeed develop a fear of thunder. (Thunder phobia develops most often between the age of 3 and 4.) However, the good news is that I linked thunder and treats again this year, and after panicking at the first blasts of thunder, she settled down and slept through the rest of the storm. I would never say that she, or any of my dogs are “cured,” but I do think we’ve dodged a bullet by working on it before it became so bad she was too frightened to eat anything. Same with Tootsie, who used to be so terrified of thunder that she quite literally tried to crawl into my mouth to get away from it. (Film at 11.)
Please add your voice to this conversation. Noise phobias can be at least exhausting for dog and owners, and at worst, life threatening. As always, I’ll add this blog and your comments to the Learning Center so that people can get help and advice for years to come.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Maggie and I were lucky to get a spot in the Scott Glen clinic this weekend, and iced the cake with a private lesson on Monday. Maggie is gradually getting her confidence back after being attacked by a ewe and also having my flock make learning to shed into a dog’s nightmare. (I should be clear here–sheep are not the sweet, docile characters that people often imagine. They have heads like anvils and are perfectly capable of injuring a dog. However, the best sheep dogs are aware, in some canine-ish-metaphysical sense, that they have weapons in their mouths. Just like paper beats rock and rock beats scissors (remember that game?), teeth beat hard heads every time. That is, if a dog knows she has them to use. Maggie does not. She is also what we euphemistically call “soft”. “Not brave” is another way of putting it. That’s just who she is. As someone who is not particularly brave myself, I have lots of empathy. And so she and I are working on it, trying to be the best we can be.
Scott’s primary lesson for me this weekend was “Maggie needs to learn it is okay to make a mistake.” If she busts in on the sheep in a somewhat panicked attempt to get them to move, so be it. Good girl for giving it a try. Although I got Maggie at 14 months, I don’t think anyone “made” her afraid to make a mistake. That’s just how she is wired. She gets caught up in her head and lets herself get overwhelmed with worries about what she should do, what is best to do… rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. Of course, I don’t know what is happening in her mind, but that is my best explanation for her behavior.
Most importantly, she gained a lot of confidence this weekend, and we had truly wonderful fun–working, learning, and spending time with good friends.
Here she was on Monday, when we were working on helping her be less cautious and push the sheep a little more. Scott’s primary message to me today: Be quiet and get out of her way. (Hear me sigh.) And it was working–look at how she is putting pressure on the sheep, without causing any trouble. You go girl. (Please send duct tape for my mouth.)
Vivienne Steinke says
I have a very fearful Border collie and a getting fearful Border collie that have owned me for 8 years. The getting fearful Collie has only recently started his foray into “the sky is falling” and can be very snappy when afraid. He has his spot beside the bed and as long as nobody gets in his way on the way there, everyone lives.
The older and very fearful collie has a routine that he sets in motion at the onset of barometric pressure change. He runs into the bathroom, the only room in the house without windows, and climbs into the tub and pulls the curtain shut. If anyone uses the bathroom he pokes his head out, takes a pet, and goes back to laying down.
I learned recently that showing affection/comfort is not a crime in these situations and does not intensify the fear, in fact they recover much faster when I check on them and give them treats.
We had one dog whose thunder phobia was definitely noise related. His phobia steadily got less severe as he went hard of heading in his old ag.
Wendy Green says
My 15 year old Jack Russell has suddenly become frightened by thunder. Her hearing has deteriorated the last year, so I suspect she feels it more than hears it. Holding her is the only way to stop her crying and shaking. I need to learn more about caring for an elderly dog. She has been such a wonderful companion for 13 years, I want to treat her right in her elder years.
Wendy, Please check out the advice in the post. We just had a massive thunder boom and the dogs ran to me. I gave them one special treat (“Oh boy, thunder treats!”), the dogs took them enthusiastically and then lay down and ignored all the rest of the thunder, which was loud and frequent.
Our border collie has done MUCH better by leaving a light on in a room at night. I think he associates lightning with the thunder, and the bright light minimizes the the contrast of lightning in a dark room.
Denise Stead says
Counter conditioning helped my dog. I adopted a dog that was scared of thunder. I was also going through recallers game with him. One thundery nights, 2am, he can’t sleep, I can’t sleep so I decided we may as well play some games. It took a while to engage him and each thunder clap would set him back but a little less each time. But at the end of the storm he went straight to sleep. I can’t remember how many storms we passed like this but it was not as many as he has since slept through. The games were high arousal,high self control, lots of rewards, lots of focus on the game rather than the storm.
I notice little “starts” at firework noise and thunder….thanks for the reminder to start NOW.
My dog is relatively new to us and there is so much to teach, but I need to remember to not ignore possible problems.
My dog and I spent our first three 4ths at a motel with loud air conditioning because we were at horse shows. I had no idea how stressful our neighborhood’s 4thcelebration would be. I faced our first one with Benadryl and a wrap. In distress I turned up music, turned on fans… but It was terrible. I’ve learned that our neighborhood is an all day noise experience. The neighbor we see well puts on an aerial extravaganza once dark hits. The next street over puts on a competitive show. Yes, a suburban neighborhood. Last year fireworks were banned, I thought it would be quieter. I had the fans, music, tv, wrap, hemp treats, added the Benadryl, put down the shades, everything I could think of…it was still terrible. Do this year? I have a reservation at that motel we used to stay at. I don’t care that it’s a 1.5 hr drive. I don’t care that I won’t be with human family or friends. Sorry guys, me and my dog are skipping this shindig for sanity’s sake.
I have a problem with one dog learning fear from the other. Sophy, my papillon, developed sound sensitivity very suddenly a few years ago, when we were out walking and she heard distant shooting and she promptly decided it was time to go home. Counter conditioning has worked reasonably well with her, and would work better if I was better prepared and more organised so as to be ready with good treats whenever random bangs happen out and about.
Poppy, my toy poodle, decided that if brave, confident Sophy is afraid of bangs they must be truly dangerous, and went from not noticing them to shivering wreck almost overnight. We cope with big stuff by getting under the duvet, where Poppy will curl up against me and sleep while I rub Sophy’s ears, but some sounds are hard to avoid – the crackle of a stick burning on the fire will have Poppy too anxious to accept a treat, and it is difficult to find a level that I can hear but where she is still below threshold.
But I know counter conditioning works – the one bang they do not mind is the sound of a prosecco cork popping – a reliable indicator of crisps and breadsticks and other shared nibbles! You have reminded me to put a big note on my calendar to put a bag of good treats into my pocket ahead of the shooting season, and to try and find a recording of crackling sticks well before the weather turns chill.
Dieta Decker says
One of my friends used to greet every lightning and boom of thunder or fireworks with ‘oh wow, did you see that? What an amazing show’ because he thought if he got excited about the noise and light the dogs would take their cue from him. It seemed to work – even rescue dogs that arrived with noise phobias calmed down when they saw their human enjoying it so much
My Scout is not only afraid of thunder and fireworks, but the dishwasher. Makes me think she is more sensitive to the vibration than sound? She does have acute senses though- she often crawls under my bed for a nap and somehow can tell if another dog is walking down the street. Can’t be smell or sight, so must be hearing or something else. I’ve tried pheremones and thundershirt, calming treats, she still shakes until its over. I have resorted to taking her for car rides when I do the dishes.
Has anyone tried the zen box? It is very expensive but would be worth it if it worked. My BC, at 12, is finally going deaf enough that she is marginally manageable – she would shred sheet rock trying to dig a hole.
Thanks for this great and timely summary!
“She gets caught up in her head and lets herself get overwhelmed with worries about what she should do, what is best to do… rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. ”
I do this too! Perfection is the enemy of “done”. Keep rockin’ the sheep, Maggie!
Becky Garbarino says
I’m curious about your comment that you are now more skeptical of the Leeds and Wagner CDs. Can you please expand on that?
Thunder sensitivity can be linked to nerve damage and never damage is caused by vaccines. It is worth looking into for people to understand.
Karen DeBraal says
One of my dogs is super-hyper phobic of fireworks. I have done all of the above and everything you can think of and all with positivity. As she has aged and lost some hearing, the phobia is lessening a bit. But the fireworks in my city are severe and go on for a month. As the area has gentrified, as people seem to become dimly aware that veterans and animals are harmed by the ruckus, it seems to be lessening a little. For the last nine years, I have left town for a week. I go to a small, dog friendly cottage in eastern Oregon, where the fire danger is so high that fireworks are strictly banned.
About the only sounds that disturb my 4YO Basenji are gunshots (weekend target practice in our rural neighborhood) and loud pickups. But I didn’t know that when I got him so did a little online searching for different sound effects; my plan being to have him in a familiar comfortable environment where I can help him manage his triggers by playing the sound effects at a low volume initially while rewarding (feeding, playing, etc.) and replaying the sound at gradually higher volume. The gunshots seem to be mostly on weekends so on our walks I take some high-value treats to pop in his mouth right after we hear the shot. I work on the loud pickup noises whenever we are on the sidewalk at a strip mall or park and hear one running in a parking lot by giving treats for obedience behaviors close enough to the vehicle that the noise registers but far enough away that he can still think and respond.
Jill Leggio says
My BC/Aussie is insane when it thunders and we live in SW FL-(second most lightening strikes in the world.) We have been to a Veterinary Behaviorist who had me set up a safe room (shower) provide frozen kongs, white noise, etc. She has adaptil, thunder shirt, aromatherapy, music for dogs. She’s on clomicalm daily and takes diazepam and melatonin when it storms. Without the drugs she becomes frantic and attempts to climb into any open area…washers, dryers, cabinets or onto surfaces like counters. We’ve emptied cabinets for her to climb into, but she won’t stay in any place for more than a minute unless I’m with her. If the storm is bad, she’ll try to push me out of the way to get to her next idea of a safe place. I live by the radar app from June through October. She actually has gotten better with distant thunder, but not with severe storms. I’m always looking for something more that will help. A neighbor recommended an igloo doghouse. I’ll try it, not sure where it will fit, but it’s worth a try.
Thank you so much for these informative tips. None of my current dogs are thunder- or noise-phobic but one of my previous dogs was terrified of the corn cannon (yes there is unfortunately such a thing employed by some farmers, sigh). I would sing to her “Dopey Neighbors” and shove high-value treats into her. After a short time, when the cannon sounded she’d come looking to me for treats!
For years I have kept Janet Marlowe’s “Zen Dog” CD playing constantly while I’m not at home. I’ve been told by visitors that there seems to be a “natural valium” at my home.
Gretchen in the Rocky Mountains says
I am convinced acupuncture works for dogs! Here’s a DIY during the thunderstorm/fireworks accupressure idea I had this morning after reading your post: I am thinking that the “Butterfly Hug” for humans would help canines that are stressed/anxious from thunder/noises. I tried it this morning on my (not so calm) Golden Retriever puppy.
The Butterfly Hug is bilateral stimulation on accupressure points that calms the amygdala. You can use it on yourself or if a child needs comforted and is anxious, sit her on your lap with her back to you and cross your wrists/hands over (around) her with your palms facing her chest, just below the clavicle and gently tap left, right, left, right. Your hands look like a butterfly as you tap left, right, left, right.
Here’s a link that tells the “Butterfly Hug” story (it is used by therapists to help people in natural disasters or with trauma because it is so effective and is easy to teach people to use themselves):
Last fall, my acupuncturist told me that the acupressure points are the same on animals as humans. You just need to take into consideration the different anatomy to find the points. I sat down with my 85 pound puppy and with trial and error I tapped back and forth, Butterfly Hug style, several places just above his chest, as no clavicle to help me locate the points, until I must have found the right place because he just melted and after tapping for a minute he went to sleep. Hmmm? It might work! I think it definitely helps if we are able to be calm and relaxed when we do this on a child (or dog) as they can feel our tension.
Also, my dogs know that thunder means “really good cookies” or “tuna fish” or “chicken”!!! They get all happy and come running for treats every time a thunderstorm approaches! Thank you so much for that suggestion.
Gretchen in the Rocky Mountains says
I’m going to practice the Butterfly Hug on my dogs for 1 minute every day. Then, when they do get anxious, it will be easy for us to try and see if it helps.
When I adopted my Dalmatian 6 years ago (she was 6 at the time) she was terrified of thunder. One summer afternoon as storm after storm rolled through – about 6 hours in all – we crawled under the covers in bed and I just held her for the duration. She still wasn’t calm, but at least she wasn’t frantic. Now that she is losing her hearing, she doesn’t even seem to notice thunder storms at all. While I am sad that she is going deaf, it is a relief that she’s not terrified of the storms anymore.
Sally Davis says
I have a sound-sensitive Border Collie that I acquired as a rehome at 2 1/2. He is afraid of so many sounds on TV that I feel I cannot use it for masking fireworks. Interesting enough, I live fairly close to a major military installation and he is quite tolerant of the firing range unless they bring out the really big guns. On to food and singing, maybe we can survive this 4th.
I’m surprised no one has mentioned Sileo. We used it last year with very good results. It treats sound sensitivity so it doesn’t come with the issues that some of the tranquilizers do.
Casper O' Hane says
Eileen and Dogs has some great articles about this as well. We are having fireworks on June 30th here in the town of Abingdon, VA, and seeing as it won’t even be July yet, I think that is very strange.
Jann Becker says
Kira (9-yr-old Goldendoodle) partially learned to be afraid of loud noises from her late brother Andy (who was just born anxious.) She goes to the ONE spot without windows; I think lightning bothers her as much as thunder, so I start a group hug on the bed in a room with blackout shades. Don’t know what happens if it storms and I’m not home.
I’ve been told NOT to comfort a dog during a storm, and that the “fear behavior” shouldn’t be reinforced with cuddling, comfort, etc. But I’ve never had a dog start acting that way in the absence of a storm, so I comfort as best I can.
Look into CBD oil and treats to take the edge off. I have success with my girl about spooky things, like ice sliding on my metal roof, with the higher dose of treatibles.com. She does not have a fear of noise or storms. This is my go-to and suggestion before meds.
My friend’s dog was a barometric pressure pup, and a half of Xanax helped him. I think static electricity was part of this, as he would wedge himself behind the toilet. He had no fear of noise and lived across the road from a rod and gun club. Fireworks were never an issue.
When he stayed with us, the CBD treats helped him sleep, as well as being around another dog that wasn’t bothered by storms.
Ellen Jefferies says
I had very good luck with cotton in their ears. Also have had good luck with counter conditioning which was always included in the conformation handling classes. Also used a thunder shirt with good results when it didn’t seem to be the noise that was the problem. That last dog would start to vibrate long before the storm arrived
Alexander Hardy says
Greetings from the Sth Pacific–for your info—.
Re : Tufts / Dodman, Cottam–Study Storm Defender vs Placebo Cape—–see Applied Animal Behaviour Science 119(2009) 78-84—may be of interest to you. Dr Karen Overall has also written some good material on drug therapy in severe cases of noise phobia( note -may be controlled substances) See article DVM Newsmagazine 42.1(Jan 2011):p10S
Follow your blog/reporting from afar but with interst and enjoyment Best Wishes, Alexander H
I have an Australian Shepherd that developed fear of firecrackers around the age of 3, which threw me for a loop considering he really never had any fear with anything while growing up. I tried the thunder shirt, drowning out the noise with the TV, ect, along with play or food to no avail. To see my brave Boy drooling, shaking and even unable to move unless velcroed to my leg broke my heart! I heard about the music Wholetones having remarkable effects on dogs with several types of fears, including separation anxiety and loud noises. I was skeptical, but after trying it last year, my Boy actually goes to his Safe place ( a couple in the house where I played the music originally) and soothes himself!! It can be found on Facebook and usually is free or you can find it on utube as well. On the actual firework occasions, if I’m awaken from it, I’ll pop in the 20 minute cd and find my Boy able to calm down quickly and we all can get some sleep the rest of the evening. I did take advantage of my early bird neighborhood celebrating early, during and after the occasion to do some conditioning to it, as there were breaks and not for long periods of time.
Best of luck to everyone who has a dog with fears of anything and I’m sure glad my younger dog didn’t pick up on this before we found a solution.
Our 10 year old pointer has general and separation anxiety and does not do well with storms and fireworks although he has gotten better with other loud noises (hammering, nail guns, chain saws etc). However, with prescription medication, Adaptil and a body wrap he manages quite well although he does immensely better if we are home and it’s not just him and the other dogs. Our other dogs don’t love fireworks or thunder but will forget about it entirely if given a bully stick.
I would also be interested in your thoughts on any of the calming music. I have been very on the fence about it.
Deserves a better answer than I can give now. But I’ll answer your question either in comments, or perhaps a blog post on the topic specifically. Thx for asking.
Rhonda York says
With my dogs, I have started cooking the evenings of July 4 or if an evening thunderstorm rolls through. They love it when I cook as I frequently drop pieces of food. It keeps them interested. I plan to have a few recipes ready to made this 4th. I also run loud fans at the same time. Once I’m done, we all go together on my bed and cuddle, again with fans running.
Good ideas! We used to take Oliver in the basement and turn the tv on louder than normal to block out the sounds. A thunder shirt put on early helped to calm him also.
Margaret McLaughlin says
@ Christy. I’m glad to hear the Selio is working for you. Nina is being treated at Purdue for separation anxiety and noise phobias, and has been prescribed it for situations where the storm or other noise comes so suddenly that there’s no time for her Trazadone to take effect. WE have not needed to use it yet.
We also do wraps and counterconditioning, but at the moment my motto is “better living through chemistry”.
My girl developed thunder phobia as she aged. When she was younger we would sit out on the screen porch and watch the storms together. But around the time she turned 10 she got really phobic. Nothing calmed her. Music, wraps, scents, dark places, even juicy chicken cubes raining from the sky. I ultimately just got down in her bed with her (she could jump up in my bed any longer) held her until the storm passed.
My shy dog had generalized noise phobia and was extremely static sensitive . I took to spraying diluted fabric softener on my carpets and rugs because he was so easily shocked and totally traumatized by static. He also was thunder phobic and would pace and shake uncontrollably during the storms. We found out later he was also in a lot of a pain as he was developing severe spinal arthritis. His spine was fusing together. Once we got him treated for the pain his noise and static phobic decreased. But he would still seek out the space between my headboard and my pillows.
So yes, I truly believe that it is not just noise but static as well. In the future, I will have all my dogs ( I often adopt older dogs) thoroughly x-rayed.
My pup is not bothered by thunder or the lightning , which I am very happy about since I live in Florida and the summer months it is a daily thing. If there is a loud noise she has not heard before she wants to investigate it, she paces back and forth trying to figure out where it is . Her thing is the vacuum cleaner it is a horrible monster that must be barked at.
Alexandra Bassett says
I live in Los Angeles where people get illegal fireworks south of the border. People start shooting them off about a week before the actual holiday and lost loose dogs suddenly start appearing everywhere like clockwork. Thank you for all the recommendations and all the work you’ve done to improve the life of dogs everywhere! I refer to your website and books all the time in my work as a dog trainer and your material has helped me solve a variety of behavior cases. Thank you!
Jane H. says
We have a big fenced yard and live in a forest. One day our 2-year-old bloodhound was standing by the fence when a bolt of lightening hit a tree just outside the fence and blew the bark off it. Ever since then he is petrified of any loud noise like thunder or fireworks, etc. he will run into our walk in shower making sure the curtain is closed. He is now eight and nothing has helped him get over loud noises but his shower. We have 2 other bloodhounds that loud noises don’t bother them at all and hoped their attitudes would rub off on him but no luck. He’s a 160 pound wuss but we love him anyway.
Oh poor guy! There are many ways to help dogs who are sound sensitive, from counter conditioning to western medicine. Have you talked to your vet? I hope you can help him; it’s no way to live for any of you!