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Charlottesville's Professional Dog Grooming

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Charlottesville, VA 22911

Dealing with Doggie Anxiety

Thursday, August 17th, 2006 by Mike Cronk

Kathleen Valenzi, one of our customers, has a dog named Karma who suffers from anxiety during thunderstorms.  She asked us: Do you know why some dogs are affected by storms this way, and are there things one can do (besides getting tranquilizers from your vet) to put them at ease?



The best I can determine based on experience and research is that fear of thunder storms can be either a learned behavior or genetic. Some dogs are particularly shy and timid, even fearful, at birth. When you have a litter of pups, the one that is timid will require more careful treatment than the rolly polly one that runs out to greet you. It is the timid one that is genetically predisposed to anxiety at such things as loud noises—like thunder.

Dogs pick up on human emotion very easily—they can sense when we are anxious, afraid, or nervous. Assuming you have a normal puppy to begin with, you want to be very calm during rainy or stormy weather. If you jump and run for shelter during a storm, don’t be surprised if your dog mimics that behavior. My wife was in a tornado as a child which flattened the neighbor’s house. Now, when she is in a storm, she’s off to the bedroom to put a pillow over her head. Whether by following your lead or through a more direct experience like Loretta’s, dogs can develop similar learned behaviors.

If your dogs act anxious during a storm and you pet and praise them in order to calm them down, you may actually make it worse. When you want a dog to repeat behavior such as sitting upon command, you give verbal praise and a treat. If you do the same when they are behaving inappropriately then you encourage that behavior.

The best cure is to prevent the problem in the first place by ignoring the weather and engaging in play. Dogs’ sense of smell and hearing alert them to weather changes before we are aware. If your dog has a fear of storms despite proper training, the only alternative may be watching the weather prediction closely and with the advice and consultation of your veterinarian, give them tranquilizers to help calm them down.


Karma’s owner adds that her vet “said that these days the protocol is to prescribe the human anxiety medicine, alprazalam (known as Xanax), to dogs with thunderstorm anxieties. He said that drug has been found to be more effective than the traditional sedatives in that it treats the anxiety itself. Otherwise, with traditional sedatives, you’re likely to have a sedated pet who is still cowering in fear. Not cheap: 5 pills (purchased to try it out and see whether it works) cost $10.36 at CVS.”

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