Dog goes crazy during thunderstorms?
June 10, 2009 7:06 AM   Subscribe

What to about my dog and her fear of thunderstorms?

My wife and I adopted Kira, a Staffyin July of 2006. She has been a wonderful dog, and is really a great companion. She has some drawbacks which have recently been hitting our family hard. We recently had a baby and although Kira has shown no aggression and has been relativity good with her, we don't think we can trust her, especially with the most recent incident. The most recent incident is that she is very afraid of thunderstorms, we know this, and we try to get home in time to be with her, but it doesn't always happen that way. This past storm, Kira tore up my wifes breast pump, and shredded the door frame to the bathroom door. Overall, it is going to be over $300 of damage. We were caught off guard by the storm, and tried to get home for her, but by the time we did, it was too late. She can't be crated, as she has destroyed her crate (bent the metal bars so that the door won't close). 99% of the time she is wonderful, but that 1% she causes quite the ruckus. I'm fearful that she will not only hurt my house, but hurt herself, and we don't have the money for large vet bills.

We really do care for Kira, but we are reaching our last straw. We have tried to be great owners for her, but we just don't know what else to do. Do you have any suggestions for us? We are seriously considering returning her to the shelter that we adopted her from, but any other information would be great. We know that we can't be home everytime there is a thunderstorm, so we are in a bind.
posted by fozzie33 to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can you pen her in the basement away from the storm? If you put her down there with the windows blocked out and left a stereo on, maybe she wouldn't notice?
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 7:18 AM on June 10, 2009

Have you talked to your vet? Many vets will prescribe anti-anxiety meds in these kind of situations as a last resort. My dog used to get really anxious in the car when she was a puppy, and after consistently giving her a very small dose of a sedative prescribed by our vet, she now associates car rides with a time to go to sleep.

Another recommendation would be to watch the weather predictions closely, and act very calmly around her when a storm is coming but her anxiety hasn't started yet. Use that time as a chance to practice her training commands and reward her with treats. My dog used to flip out at runners with other dogs, so now when I see one coming on a walk, I ask her to sit, and then feed her treats as the dog runs by. She now stays calm.

I would NOT recommend trying to comfort, cuddle, or pet her once she's started getting anxious, as this will just reinforce her behavior. If you can find a cage that will withstand her, use that, but not just when it's storming. Crate her regularly when she's calm with an irresistable toy (I find a kong frozen with wet dog food inside works great) so she associates the crate with security and relaxation. Make sure you take her collar off before you crate her so it doesn't get caught on something if she panics. Also look into a white noise machine online and turn that on, or leave a radio on whenever you leave.

Good luck.
posted by emilyd22222 at 7:22 AM on June 10, 2009

I had 2 dogs one that was afraid of thunderstorms (he was lost outside in a huge one when he was a puppy) and the other was afraid of fire crackers. She had previous owners that beat her and threw them in her face. (There is a special spot in hell for people like this!) The vet gave us doggy versions of tranquilizers to give them when a bad storm or the 4th was approaching. It helped to calm down their anxiety for the first year or 2 then both of my dogs just one year got over their fears completely.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:27 AM on June 10, 2009

Thunderstorms are hell for our dog also. We let her sleep on the bed with us. She'll just tremble and HAVE to be near us.

As for the destruction when your dog is alone, I can only nth the recommendation for meds, on an occasional basis, if you know that a storm or other loud noises are coming.
posted by Danf at 7:34 AM on June 10, 2009

FYI a lot of dogs are scared of thunderstorms because they are sensitive to the static charge in the air. Use a dryer sheet and rub it over the dog before or during a thunderstorm to see if it calms her down.
posted by Grither at 7:45 AM on June 10, 2009

Thunderstorms are notoriously nerve wracking for dogs. I had a 100+ lb German Shepard/Husky X growing up who would try to hide behind the toilet each and every time.

For some reason, putting in in the shower stall calmed her down. (She always tried to hid behind the basement toilet, whose bathroom only had a tall stand-up shower). (She didn't even have a crate.) We put in her there with her favourite toys and blanket, some treats (a frozen bone or something equally as time consuming), and for some reason, she calmed down. I think it was more a sensory deprivation thing -- she shouldn't see anything outside her little 5x5 ft world, and her food was enough of a distraction.
posted by cgg at 7:45 AM on June 10, 2009

Seconding white noise. No matter where she is in the house though, she'll probably be able to feel the vibrations from the noise and the momentary change in air pressure (I think that's what it is- that fluttery sort of feeling in the air?). She'll also be able to hear reverberations and sounds that are outside the range of what the white noise machine is producing. Our dog did a lot better if we had him in a well-lit room with a couple other people in it going about their business (keeping him in the kitchen getting a treat with the rest of us chatting or something was best- making things normal), but it sounds like your girl isn't there yet. Here's hoping you can work out a solution with your vet.
posted by variella at 7:48 AM on June 10, 2009

Medication seems like a good option--maybe you could talk to your vet about something that would be a regular dose so that you wouldn't have to rush over to give her a pill when a storm starts (not that I know anything about dog anxiety meds, just that it seems like you'll want a solution that eliminates or reduces the need for an immediate response the moment a storm hits).

Also, can you ask your vet for an alternative crate recommendation? There must be some type of crate intended for dogs Kira's size/strength.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:01 AM on June 10, 2009

Seconding the possibility that you may be unintentionally reinforcing her fear by paying more attention to her during a storm, or by changing the kind of interaction you have with her. For example, maybe she's not normally allowed on the couch, but during a storm, you let her sit up there close to you for comfort? So she's learned that that is how one is supposed to act during a storm. If this is the case, then you have to approach it as a training issue.

But for those times when you're not home, there has to be some technology you can use. At the very least, do you have an answering machine? Maybe you could call your house, let the machine pick up, and say calming things to her*? Or a remotely-activated switch for a Feliway dispenser or a white noise machine or your tv (to play a calming video).

*I have actually called my dogs in the middle of the day to tell them to get off the couch. My daughter, who was home at the time, reported that their ears perked up at the sound of my voice, but they did not actually move from their respective positions. On the couch. So, yeah this may not work without your physical presence there.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:26 AM on June 10, 2009

To expand on what Grither said, there's the Storm Defender Cape that kind of works on the same principle. It's a foil-lined jacket/cape you put on your dog. We've never tried it but will be trying the dryer sheet technique the next time it storms.
posted by Atom12 at 8:34 AM on June 10, 2009

A lot of dogs want to get behind the toilet or in the bathtub during thunderstorms (plumbing pipes provide an electrical ground) and will do no damage if allowed to do so. Would allowing her to do so solve the problem? It sounds like she wanted in the bathroom.

(I once fostered an ENORMOUS labzilla mutt thing - 150lbs - who actually got his entire self behind the toilet during a thunderstorm. It took him several hours to figure out how to get out when it was over. That wasn't something that would have worked in the long term, I don't think the toilet could have withstood that more than a couple of times.)

I don't really understand where the thunderstorm phobia is creating trust issues with the baby, it kind of sounds like you're looking for the right excuse to get rid of the dog, and if you are, just do it, don't make excuses. Otherwise you can either try to solve the actual anxiety the dog goes through (allowing her to hide where she can ground herself or otherwise feels secure enough, if that is possible when home alone, it may not be), try medication, or keep a petsitting service on call so you can send them over when it rains.

I have seen dogs do horrendous damage to themselves when crated during high-anxiety periods. That is a solution for you, not the dog.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:36 AM on June 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

I have seen dogs do horrendous damage to themselves when crated during high-anxiety periods. That is a solution for you, not the dog.

Clarifying that my crate advice was to make the crate a safe haven so that anxiety is reduced during storms, not to crate without doing the prep work. I have also seen dogs hurt themselves when this is done properly, but with the right training, it becomes like a den to them- my dog voluntarily spends most of her time in her cage with the door open, and she runs in there if she's scared.
posted by emilyd22222 at 8:59 AM on June 10, 2009

*this is done properly = this is NOT done properly
posted by emilyd22222 at 9:25 AM on June 10, 2009

The most recent incident is that she is very afraid of thunderstorms

What are the other incidents?
posted by zippy at 9:26 AM on June 10, 2009

Thunderstorms are scary for dogs. The dog needs to learn to handle stress. Making a crate, or other safe haven, available may help. Can the crate go in the bathroom? with a blanket on top. My dogs always liked to go someplace cave-like in a storm if I wasn't home.

You don't sound like you feel confident about this dog and your child. Please get the dog assessed. When the child is toddling, it will be even more important for the dog to be able to deal with the child.
posted by theora55 at 10:36 AM on June 10, 2009

Get your dog comfortable with the crate. Encourage her to spend a lot of time in there: feed her in there, put treats in there when she's not around, put a blanket and a t-shirt you've worn in there- there's lots of websites about crate training.
Also, if you're using a plastic petmate crate you can find replacment doors that connect in six places instead of four. You could also try a wire crate, but you'll need to tape or zip-tie all the edges (dogs break out of wire crates just trying to turn around).
After she's comfortable with the crate, put her in there if there's the slightest chance of a storm while you're out.
Also, if your baby is new, then you should have a LOT of time to work on this before you'd want to leave your child unsupervised with the dog.
posted by gally99 at 11:30 AM on June 10, 2009

Our dog is scared not just of thunder but of rain in general. She likes to go in the hall closet, which is farthest from all windows. So we put a dog bed in there. It offers the "cave" feeling without confining her.
posted by Lizzle at 5:53 PM on June 10, 2009

I apologize for being the voice of doom. My rottie mix was afraid of storms and I tried for 5 years to help her cope. I tried everything listed in this thread and more and nothing at all worked. She tore through any cage/door. Meds had no effect. She would slobber, scratch, urinate unintentionally....It was awful and I tear up thinking about it still but we finally gave her away a couple months ago. I hope one of the suggested methods work for your dog, but some puzzles aren't always able to be solved.
posted by CwgrlUp at 8:06 PM on June 10, 2009

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