Do you find your dog trying to nuzzle in to you when it starts to thunder? The chances are that the same dog also vanishes behind the sofa when it pours with rain or hail. Now you may consider this behaviour to be sweet and quite endearing but the signs indicate that your canine companion is absolutely terrified of storms.
Some dog owners try to turn a blind eye to the behaviour and cope with the odd whine and pacing up and down but really your dog needs all the help going because he/she is genuinely frightened.
Now ‘storm phobias’ are actually one of the most common behavioural problems observed within dogs but to this day it is not totally crystal clear why they happen. Animal behaviourists are not certain what part it is of the storm which actually terrifies the dog the most. They do not know if the dog is reacting to the flashes of lightening, the crash of thunder, the wind blowing or the rain hitting against the windows of the house.
It has also been proven that dogs possess, as do many other species of animals, a sixth sense when it comes to storms. Numerous dogs commence pacing up and down approximately thirty minutes prior to the initial signs of a storm. It is thought that they could be reacting to the sudden fall in the pressure of air or the distant sounds of the thunder rumbling because do not forget how acute your dog’s hearing is in comparison to yours. They might also sense the electrical charge running through the air.
It has been said by experts that there are certain breeds of dog who are more predisposed to display a storm phobia than others. Many of the herding dogs, like Border collies and German shepherds, and several of the hounds such as bassets and beagles are more susceptible to storm phobias through their genetic make-up. Both of the breed types are ‘designed’ to have quick reactions and responses and are trained how to react quickly to a stimuli but at the same time not to react to their naturally strong predatory drive, this means that they have to learn how to overcome their natural trends which will often lead them to very high levels of stress. It is thought that because of this the dogs have a very strong response to all the noises which a storm produces however they manage to repress their aggressive response towards the storm which then causes them anxiety.
Rescue dogs are also more likely to develop a storm phobia due to their lack of exposure to an array of sights and sounds during their earlier years of life.
If you own a dog which does suffer from storm phobia then your initial step is to chat to your dog’s vet who can assist with developing a program which will gradually train your dog by gentle and slow persuasion that storms are really not that bad. They may suggest a ‘systematic desensitization’ which will basically involve exposing the dog to some subtle storm sounds by playing a tape recording quietly. Your dog is rewarded when no signs of fear are displayed but you do need to seek the guidance of an expert prior to starting this type of training.
The main thing to watch for is that you do not fuss your dog when he/she is scared; if you do you are only reiterating to them that they are actually right to be scared, so even though it will be difficult you must endeavour to ignore your dog.
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