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More Dog Anxiety – Thunder

Dog Anxiety Thunder SoundtrackHi John.

My dog does not like thunderstorms. I don’t know if you can help me or not but I am at my wits end. His anxiety is through the roof.


Dear Lisa,

Thunder phobic dogs often have specific characteristics and other distressing symptoms. In addition to their anxiousness as a result of the sound of thunder; fireworks also often sets them off. In fact many overreact when there is any overhead sound as hot air balloons or even roofers at work. Their personalities are often different as well. Overall they are noticeably kinder and gentler then most dogs. They’re easier to train, not necessarily because they’re smarter but because they just work harder to please because they dread disapproval. Were it not for the effect their anxiety has on them and their owners they’re would be for many the perfect dog. When they hear thunder and eventually when they sense a storm coming they can have any or all of the following symptoms; pacing, panting, clinging to their owners, heading to a basement and often a bathroom and eating is out of the question. I’ve known dogs that have jumped through closed windows trying to escape the sound.

This condition typically worsens as the dog matures and often many owners aren’t even aware of its early stages. There’s not much you can do about a dog that is genetically prone to anxiety but breeders and dog owners can head off the thunderstorm problem by exposing puppies before 12 weeks of age to constant loud overhead sounds. Since it’s hard to find a co-operative thunder storm; as a companion to my book about what breeders and dog owners can do about socializing puppies I had soundtracks made of thunderstorms, another of baby cries and another of annoying urban sounds. I recommend that breeders and dog owners play these constantly for their puppies as all of those sounds can produce anxiety. The idea being to play them so often the dog believes they’re as normal as a bird chirping.

However they have another use and that is to desensitize already phobic dogs by flooding their environment with the sound that distresses them. A recording can be introduced gradually and at low volumes until the recording runs constantly at full blast from speakers set high. Eventually though it is wise to turn the volume way down and periodically without warning turn it on and then offer a treat or a toy that would normally be irresistible. If the dog won’t take it drop the volume. The dog is continued to be “surprised” until it associates a sudden clap of thunder with a positive. Flooding isn’t a new idea but it was when a friend of mine with a thunder phobic dog moved to a home with a train track very near that the value of flooding hit home. Bob (the dog and an old soul if ever there was one) went from anxious to indifference and she was better then middle aged with a long history of anxiety behind her.

There’s a lot more that can be said about thunder phobia but this is one of those situations where ‘the hair of the dog’ might actually bring relief.

Pawsitively Yours

John Wade

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