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Thunder phobia dog on the way


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Well, now that you all have sufficiently scared me . . . jk.

 

I have not met this dog, yet, so I'm not sure how severe her phobia is. I have had dogs that I've owned that have had some degree of noise phobia (not border collies), but they were never destructive or a danger to themselves. Luckily, all my current dogs handle storms well, other than barking at the really loud thunder booms or firecrackers.

 

I have a new idea for this dog that I think might be worth pursuing. She is coming in by plane on Saturday along with a couple of other dogs. My friend is picking them up and meeting me with them, since she lives near the airport and the airport is about 3 hours away from me. I may ask my friend to hold onto the thunder phobic dog for a little while so she can evaluate her behavior. My friend has been doing rescue for many years and has fostered lots of different dogs with lots of different behavior challenges, including thunder phobic dogs. She has the added advantage of being able to pretty much have the dog with her at all times, so she could observe her behavior and let me know the severity of the phobia and what may or may not help the dog deal with it. That way I'm not taking a chance of either putting this dog in a crate and hoping for the best or just leaving her loose and hoping for the best, since I will have to go to work and will have no choice but to leave her alone come Monday.

 

I do understand what some are saying about quality of life and use of rescue resources on a potentially difficult to adopt-out dog. I've been down this road before and have had to make the decision to euthanize a dog for both of those reasons (no decent quality of life and no chance for adoption). Though I know that I did the right thing for all involved, it still really sucked. I need to at least give this new dog a chance and will welcome any suggestions along the way. Once I have a better idea about the severity of her phobia, I will have a better idea about what treatment, if any, I should pursue. I'm not sure that either of my "regular" vets would be all that knowledgeable about the best medicines to try, but I have a vet behaviorist who is pretty good (though expensive). In fact, I went on her website this morning and saw that she is giving a lecture in a couple of weeks on anxieties and phobias. Unfortunately, the lecture is only open to vets, but at least I know that she is probably pretty current on the literature and research, if she is giving the lecture.

 

One last comment about our storm season in FL. Though we have the potential nearly daily for storms, they are usually pretty brief. They usually come in the mid-afternoon, roll through, and are all done in an hour or less. Then, the sun comes back out and all is back to normal. So, she wouldn't be subjected to day-long or several hours-long thunder storms. Not sure if that matters or not, just thought I'd point that out.

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Noise phobia often does not show up until the dog is around 2. As for how common it is, there is no epidemiology but it appears to be quite common across herding breeds, and common enough in Border Collies that it was relatively easy to collect a large sample for genetic studies but somewhat difficult to identify true controls (i.e., unaffected dogs) although this may be due to sampling bias. Actually, the only confirmed normal Border Collie I can think of off the top of my head is Fly, who really truly could not care less even about gunshots or fireworks going off right over the house (together with her gluttonous appetite, I wonder if she was a Lab in a previous life). Jett isn't bothered by noises, but she's just about to turn two and it could still happen. Pretty much every other Border Collie I know personally is bothered by noise to some extent.

 

I ran Fly at a trial in CA that was held at a fair, and part of the festivities involved fireworks, which unfortunately started during an Open handler's run. The fireworks ruined the run and caused nearly every handler to jump out of his or her seat and run to the parking area to make sure his/her dogs were OK. This suggested to me that pretty much every competitor at the trial owned a noise phobic dog.

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Scooter and Fly would get along great. He's almost five and shows no signs of noise phobia. Sleeps through storms, fireworks, cannons going off at the historic fort down the road from us. I usually have to ask him to move when I'm vacuuming! Nothing seems to bother him, and I am very thankful for that. :rolleyes:

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Speedy really doesn't have noise issues. When it thunders or fireworks go off, he sensibly hunkers down somewhere and waits until it's over, but he's not panting, shaking, bug eyed, in a full blown panic attack.

 

When we had our well drilled, it got rather noisy as they went through a large layer of rock near the surface of the ground. The house was even shaking a bit and there was a lot of very loud noise.

 

Dean, of course, was freaked out by it and was paralyzed somewhere. (This was about a month before he went on his meds)

 

Speedy was quite calmly playing ball. He didn't care about the noise, the house shaking, nothing! I'll bet I could get him playing in a mild thunderstorm even.

 

It's funny because he's a dog with fear issues, but noise is not one of his problems. I really, really, really appreciate that in a dog now!!

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Our dog Duchess is afraid of loud noises- hides under the bed. All in all no big deal. Cody - Mr Happy Guy - what thunder are you talking about? What I really wanted to say - thank goodness for people like Mary - who are willing to worry about, put the time and effort into , and sacrifice so much for what some people call.....just a dog. Thank you Mary and others like you- especially after reading the above posts.

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I ran Fly at a trial in CA that was held at a fair, and part of the festivities involved fireworks, which unfortunately started during an Open handler's run. The fireworks ruined the run and caused nearly every handler to jump out of his or her seat and run to the parking area to make sure his/her dogs were OK. This suggested to me that pretty much every competitor at the trial owned a noise phobic dog.

 

Must have been quite a sight watching all of those handlers run for their dogs.. I bet the organizers got more than one nasty-gram out of that one!

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My last BC, Casey, become storm phobic at about age 9 or 10 years old. She would go in the bath tub and dig, hide in closets, or underneath things. She did destroy a wicker close hamper in the bathroom once but that was it as far as destruction. But I actually think that as someone else eluded to, that the dogs aren't always reacting to the thunder (noise) or lightning, but rather they are reacting to the change in the barametric pressure associated with storms. (I am not a weather person for the record.) But I do believe that the barametric pressure falls (?) during stroms. Casey could sense a storm was brewing about one hour before it actually started. We tried the Calms Forte and some other natural thing before our vet prescribed a mild tranquilizer (I believe) for her. It took about a half hour for it to kick in. We were giving her 1/3 of a pill and it would make her relax and sleep pretty much. There was one time that I think that we accidentally gave her a 1/2 a pill and she was pretty out of it at that dosage.

 

I wish you the best of luck, Mary, and hope that it is a managable issue for this dog!

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Saw a thread on this elsewhere...someone was throwing kibble at every thunder clap. It really distracted the dog and they were having some success.

 

That's a good way to go when the dog is actually able to take food while a thunderstorm is going on.

 

I used to try to feed Dean during thunder and it actually made things worse. I could put the most tantalizing food before him during a storm - fresh raw lamb, for instance - and his eyes would dilate just a little more, his panting would become deeper, and he would turn away.

 

If I were to start throwing kibble during a storm, I would really freak him out, although he loves chasing tossed kibble normally.

 

It's worth a try, but it won't be appropriate for every noise phobic dog.

 

ETA: I have had some success tossing kibble for him during very low level noise, and it's a great strategy to use in places where he has been panicked by a loud noise before and remembers, but all is quiet now (and some time has gone by), to bring back his comfort level in that place.

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Pan was not afraid of thunder, fireworks, or most loud outdoor noises like that. It was the small, tiny, barely perceptible noises that got her the worst - the ones no one else could hear unless they really paid attention, and never reacted to - like a motorcycle in the very far distance, or a pin dropping on the counter, things we couldn't notice and use desens to address. If we could recognize and control the noise, we could use desens to make her expect a treat at that sound, and she would come to actually like the noise. Hairdryers bothered her at one point and after only six reps of desens she started running to sit just outside the bathroom and apparently pontificate on my hairdrying process.

 

After the storm the other day, Vala came trotting cheerfully out of her kennel when I got home, despite my husband's saying that he couldn't get her out. She was a bit wary when I took her outside to potty (apparently gazing at the wet grass and gray sky), but when I shrugged and said "what?" in a cheerful tone, she trotted out. She is a bit old to be developing severe thunderphobia, but I sure hope it doesn't get any worse! I'm guessing based on her personality so far that she is going to be just one of those dogs who wants to be near you during a storm. Although she LOVES her kennel. So it might go that way too.

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Melanie, I am just getting settled enough to have the time to get some samples for the study. I currently own a "bomb proof" dog and used to own another. I am sending in a sample of the dog I still own. He is 11 years old and could care less about loud noises. I also own a dog who didn't care about noises until her thyroid levels dropped off a bit, but that dislike went away with supplementation. In fact, both dogs get excited about certain loud noises and run towards them to see what is going on.

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I do not agree with the advice not to stroke or speak reassuringly to a thunderphobic dog during a storm; my experience is that it usually helps and never hurts.

 

I think about this, too.

 

When I first got my dog, the books almost unanimously gave the same advice: ignore the dog when it's scared of the noise, or you'll teach it that panicking gets it loving and strokes, and you'll be reinforcing the panic.

 

So, for the first six months to a year, I didn't comfort my dog at all during storms or fireworks. Somewhere during year two, we had a run of frequent thunderstorms, and my dog got anxious during them. Not panicked, not phobic, but definitely uncomfortable. I needed to get some sleep, so I finally invited him up on the bed with me. Well, that seemed to be the magic cure: just stroking him on the back of his neck while he was near me calmed him down. He could lie down and relax, and even fall asleep sometimes between claps.

 

I do believe that since I started touching the dog during the storm, he's much less fearful than he used to be. He willingly climbs up into bed with me if I invite him, but he seems to associate that with safety, and he's content. The bodily contact seems important: we had a really bad storm last week, and he made sure he was pressed up against the entire length of me, but then he fell asleep.

 

I think that for severely phobic dogs, this is obviously not the answer - but I agree that it's probably not any kind of human comforting that escalates their phobias. The whole notion that you shouldn't comfort a dog seems like a wive's tale, thought up by a clever trainer at some point, repeated ad infinitum, and now accepted by the dog world.

 

Does anyone know when the "no comforting" advice became conventional wisdom, and what evidence it is based on?

 

Mary

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I have heard this no comforting advise as well but I have come to the conclusion that I don't buy it. I have three dogs all from the same line. They would be an interesting study. My oldest dog is afraid of loud noises. He will run to me, he will hide in a closet but I never fail to give him attention when he is fearful, it seems to help. My middle dog is afraid sometimes but he will continue working through thunder and loud noises. My youngest dog does not seem to be afraid of loud noises but he will respond in a similar fashion to the other dogs. They will come to me when they are afraid. I will comfort them. The reason I don't buy the no comforting thing is that when they do come to me they are expecting attention from me, perhaps they feel safer with me and this is their choice. It seems the only behavior that has been reinforced here is their desire to be close when they are fearful and I don't think that is a bad thing nor has it made the slightest contribution to advancing their fear.

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I'm coming into the thread late, but I've had my share of thunderphobic dogs (two right now) and have struggled to find an answer myself. One possible aid might be something called the "Storm Defender" cape, which is said to dissipate static electricity from the dogs coat. It might also function a little bit like the Anxiety Wrap. Nicholas Dodman studied the cape and showed some positive results, but concluded that the study included too few dogs to be statistically significant. Although the journal article appears to not be online at the moment (Elsevier is looking into it), there's a news article that describes it: http://www.sapaws.com/Thunderwear_among_re...obic_dogs_.html.

 

I'd love to hear if anyone has tried anything like this.

 

Ann

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I'm coming into the thread late, but I've had my share of thunderphobic dogs (two right now) and have struggled to find an answer myself. One possible aid might be something called the "Storm Defender" cape, which is said to dissipate static electricity from the dogs coat. It might also function a little bit like the Anxiety Wrap. Nicholas Dodman studied the cape and showed some positive results, but concluded that the study included too few dogs to be statistically significant. Although the journal article appears to not be online at the moment (Elsevier is looking into it), there's a news article that describes it: http://www.sapaws.com/Thunderwear_among_re...obic_dogs_.html.

 

I'd love to hear if anyone has tried anything like this.

 

Ann

If static were the issue for thunderphobic dogs then these dogs would freek when you brush them out because of the static build-up during brushing.

 

Mark

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I think about this, too.

 

When I first got my dog, the books almost unanimously gave the same advice: ignore the dog when it's scared of the noise, or you'll teach it that panicking gets it loving and strokes, and you'll be reinforcing the panic.

 

So, for the first six months to a year, I didn't comfort my dog at all during storms or fireworks. Somewhere during year two, we had a run of frequent thunderstorms, and my dog got anxious during them. Not panicked, not phobic, but definitely uncomfortable. I needed to get some sleep, so I finally invited him up on the bed with me. Well, that seemed to be the magic cure: just stroking him on the back of his neck while he was near me calmed him down. He could lie down and relax, and even fall asleep sometimes between claps.

 

I do believe that since I started touching the dog during the storm, he's much less fearful than he used to be. He willingly climbs up into bed with me if I invite him, but he seems to associate that with safety, and he's content. The bodily contact seems important: we had a really bad storm last week, and he made sure he was pressed up against the entire length of me, but then he fell asleep.

 

I think that for severely phobic dogs, this is obviously not the answer - but I agree that it's probably not any kind of human comforting that escalates their phobias. The whole notion that you shouldn't comfort a dog seems like a wive's tale, thought up by a clever trainer at some point, repeated ad infinitum, and now accepted by the dog world.

 

Does anyone know when the "no comforting" advice became conventional wisdom, and what evidence it is based on?

 

Mary

What is the proper approach to dealing with a fear agressive dog? In both cases the dog is reacting to fear.

 

Mark

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whole notion that you shouldn't comfort a dog seems like a wive's tale, thought up by a clever trainer at some point, repeated ad infinitum, and now accepted by the dog world.

 

Does anyone know when the "no comforting" advice became conventional wisdom, and what evidence it is based on?

 

Mary

I think it's a grey area, and like many things that make the rounds as definite dos or don'ts, probably started because many average pet owners tend to misread behaviors and overdo corrections *or* praises. Praise/comfort is a reinforcing behavior. That's why using praise and treats to train behaviors works so well. I think that it certainly doesn't hurt to comfort the noise sensitive dog if that sensitivity is already well established, and I do choose to comfort my own thunderphobes who came to me as adults with phobia already in existence as much as they allow it. When Twist, however, first reacted to gunshots sometime before her second birthday, I chose to ignore her reaction and continue matter of factly with whatever we were doing at the time. Twist will be 8 in November (doG how time flies!), and while she is mildly sensitive to gunshots and thunder, she is nowhere near as bad (and I mean nowhere near) as my other thunderphobes. I could reasonably argue that by *not reinforcing* her early reactions to noise with praise and comfort I perhaps managed to mitigate her fear response. Because it's not a true scientific experiment, and all other factors weren't controlled, I can't say *for sure* that my matter-of-fact aproach made a difference, but it's entirely possible it did. I would do the same with any young dog I have (and thankfully, none of the three 3-year-olds seems to be particularly concerned by thunder). As many of you know, most of my dogs are related, coming from the same bloodlines on at least one side. The fact that two of those dogs, both acquired as adults and with phobias already ingrained, are much worse than any of the others also leads me to believe that praise(comfort) for a fear reaction when it first starts to manifest may not in fact be in the best interests of preventing that fear from escalating as the dog ages, especially considering that those I've raised from puppyhood do not seem to react to the same extent and all have been raised with that matter-of-fact approach to loud noises. And then I think there are dogs who are just wired to panic at loud noises like thunder (i.e., it's more of a pathological problem), and for such dogs no amount of comforting or ignoring will make any difference. These are the types of dogs I was speaking to in my original posts to this thread--the dogs that are so phobic as to be a danger to themselves and everything around them. Such dogs aren't likely to be helped by simple comforting. Just my experience and my two cents.

 

J.

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I'm not sure it's the comforting so much as that the owner's behavior is changing, and when the owner's behavior changes it is often a cue to anxious dogs that something really is wrong. As Solo's behaviorist said, telling them "it's OK" doesn't really help because they KNOW it isn't OK. I guess it's a variation on the leash effect -- the way anxiety can travel from the owner to the dog down the leash.

 

That said, I do hug and soothe Solo sometimes during noises, but I do that a lot anyway. What you don't want is for your behavior or any other treatment to become a marker for noise fear, because then it'll just intensify the fear. I bet a lot of people do that by accident with anxiety wraps or storm defender capes (neither of which I think work, by the way). If you only put them on the dog when there's a storm or fireworks, they'll just become a signal for the dog to become especially freaked out.

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I'm not sure it's the comforting so much as that the owner's behavior is changing, and when the owner's behavior changes it is often a cue to anxious dogs that something really is wrong. As Solo's behaviorist said, telling them "it's OK" doesn't really help because they KNOW it isn't OK. I guess it's a variation on the leash effect -- the way anxiety can travel from the owner to the dog down the leash.

 

That said, I do hug and soothe Solo sometimes during noises, but I do that a lot anyway. What you don't want is for your behavior or any other treatment to become a marker for noise fear, because then it'll just intensify the fear. I bet a lot of people do that by accident with anxiety wraps or storm defender capes (neither of which I think work, by the way). If you only put them on the dog when there's a storm or fireworks, they'll just become a signal for the dog to become especially freaked out.

 

Good post Solo. I don't but into the wraps or pills or anything else. I don't have a problem with comforting my dogs during thunderstorms because they come to me anyway. I think you are correct that warps or whatever you use tends to heighten the dogs awareness that there is a problem. I don't but doing anything about the problem. I worked to get my dogs to come to me and if that works for them, if they feel safe that is fine. If they need to hide in a closet that is fine. My dogs know long before I do that a storm is coming and sometimes if I am in a position to watch them carefully they will tip me off to what is coming. I come from southern Alberta where storms can role in quickly and send border collies in all directions but out in the middle of nowhere with miles of pasture the dogs need to work it out. If coming to me is their solution that sure beats running after them all over the place. I don't have time to carry wraps with me and put them on the dogs when they have a problem.

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