This month's "Good Goldens" blog question comes from a GRRA supporter asking for helpful tips on how to assist an adopted Golden Retriever who has severe Thunderphobia issues.
With the uptick in spring storms lately, we could all use some guidance on how to bring some calm and relief to our furry Golden friends who have this fear.
We once again have called upon the professional expertise of Chris McLeod from The Canine Ranch in Canton, GA to lend her take on canine thunderphobia and what we as concerned dog owners can do about it at home --- before and during these types of storms.
Thunderstorms are a hard topic to discuss for so many reasons. Not only are the dogs hearing the thunder and seeing the rain, but they’re also feeling the change in atmospheric pressure in ways that we probably can’t even begin to understand.
Remember --- we know that dogs can sense pregnancy at 6 weeks, predict heart attacks, cancer, death, low blood sugar, and so many other things about our bodies that we really don’t fully understand yet. For those dogs that are “tuned-in” so to speak, a loud thunderstorm can be a pretty traumatic event for them.
My suggestions for clients always begin with understanding your dog's home environment. First --- make sure your dog has a safe haven to go to. Even if you don’t crate your dog every day, continue to provide the opportunity to crate by leaving one available to them. Most dogs will continue to go to their crate and see it as their “bedroom” as long as you use it as a positive place.
This is a great security blanket during a time of stress (like during severe thunderstorms for example), and especially if your dog has to be away from home. Even if you board your dog --- most kennels will accommodate a crate in the room if your dog is thunderphobic since they know that it will help your dog in times of stress.
Next, make sure you’re not increasing your dog’s stress by stroking or touching your dog during this fear period. Remember, touch is a reward. And although you want to stroke your dog’s worries away during that bad storm, what you’re actually doing is reinforcing that the dog had a right to be worried in the first place. Touch IS a reward --- and dogs repeat what is rewarded. If you stroke a dog that is fearful, you will simply be feeding the fear. Instead, let them learn to deal with the fear on their own in their safe haven (like their crate).
You can also try a device known as a ThunderShirt. It’s based on the premise that you put pressure on key points of the body to create calmness --- similar to swaddling an infant to keep them from being upset. Not all dogs see results with a ThunderShirt, but some do.
And finally, if your dog has Thunderphobia bad enough you should definitely seek the advice of a Veterinarian. Sadly, there comes a time for some dogs when anxiety turns to complete terror, and for me that’s when I feel it’s only fair to seek medical help.
There’s no sense forcing your dog to endure terror just to get through a storm when you can alleviate it with a very safe medicine --- similar to if you were terrified of flying or if you always got seasick when going on cruises. Medical relief is available for dogs and should be discussed with your Golden's Vet for options to make them feel calmer during terrible spring / summer storms.
Thanks so much, Chris! GREAT information as always. Do you have a training / behavioral question that you would like to ask Chris McLeod from The Canine Ranch? Please post it here and we'll be happy to submit for our next GRRA blog topic. Have a Good Golden Day, everyone!