Behavioral approaches to treatment
Treatment focuses on altering a dog's response to the stimuli by teaching it the competing behavior of relaxing. This part
of the behavior modification requires that the dog is not inadvertently rewarded for the fearful or anxious response.
Most dogs associate the word "OK" with a behavior that's encouraged and rewarded. Telling them it's "OK" when it's not will
confuse the dog and leave it without a clear roadmap of what's expected. As a result, the dog will become more anxious.
Also, to a dog, petting is a reward. When clients pet fearful dogs, they're inadvertently rewarding the anxious behavior.
And for some dogs, petting is just one more stimulus adding to an anxiety-filled environment.
So what can clients do? Watch the dog and learn what human behaviors, if any, calm it. For example, clients can leave the
dog alone in a place that's as calm and quiet as possible (as long as the dog is not at risk for injury) or just stay quietly
by the dog. Quiet association can provide solace and security without accidentally rewarding the dog.
Instead of petting the dog, clients can put gentle continuous pressure, either with an arm or the whole body, on the dog.
This pressure works in most mammals to calm general arousal. If permitted by the dog, the client can lean on or against the
dog. If this helps, and it often does, the client will feel the dog exhale and its muscles begin to relax. Obviously, this
is not a good plan if the dog becomes even more frantic.
Crates may help some animals that already like their crates and voluntarily go there as a place to relax. In this case, a
blanket draped over a crate may help. However, dogs that have never been crated or that dislike being crated will learn to
fear the enclosures if they're forced into one during a storm; they will feel trapped, which will make the phobia and panic
Sometimes, distressed dogs will seek out darker rooms, closets, rooms without windows and spaces under desks. Clients can
provide these opportunities and see if the dog calms.
Dog runs will make storm-phobic dogs worse because the dogs cannot escape, and they feel fully surrounded by any storm. Furthermore,
if there's a roof, it's usually of a material that makes the sounds odder and louder, further terrifying the animal. Clients
who keep their dogs outdoors may not even know if the dog reacts to storms until they run away, break through the run or break
their teeth and otherwise injure themselves attempting escape. Simple containment is not a solution for this debilitating
There have been anecdotal reports of successful use of calming caps and anxiety wraps. A calming cap alters what the dog can
see, and it applies some mild pressure to the head and face. It's unsuitable for aggressive dogs that cannot be manipulated,
dogs that cannot stand having anything over their faces or those that will panic if they cannot see something. Anxiety wraps
thundershirt.com) put gentle, constant physical pressure on the dog. Neither of these tools can be put easily on a dog that is thrashing around.
Whether these tools are helpful has not really been tested, but some clients may wish to try them.
One trendy addition is the Storm Defender Cape (stormdefender.com).This wrap-around, belted cape seeks to decrease the dog's exposure to static electricity that may be associated with some
storms. The principle being used here is that of a Faraday cage, where a mesh grid (usually copper) blocks transmission of
static electricity. All MRI units, for example, have Faraday cages built in. The cape does not cover the dog's head, legs
or tail. Because the dog is not contained in a true Faraday cage, the extent to which it may benefit from a cape may depend
on the trigger for the dog's reactivity (e.g., static electricity), body size and type of storm.
Photo 1: A dog wearing tinted Doggles.