Many dogs become frightened or even panicked during thunderstorms. How to help if your dog’s one of them.
Does Comfort Zone Work?
There’s been a preliminary study of “dog-appeasing pheromone,” sold in pet supply stores under the brand name Comfort Zone. The diffuser releases an artificial version of substances secreted when a mother dog nurses. Nine out of 12 dogs treated with pheromone plus behavior modification in a preliminary study showed some improvement, as reported by the owners. These numbers are tiny; on the other hand, Comfort Zone is pretty cheap. I would try it.
Does the “Storm Defender” Work?
A newish product is the Storm Defender cape, lined with metallic lamé. This is less crazy than it sounds. A veterinary behaviorist at Tufts hypothesized some years ago that pain from static electricity may contribute to thunder phobia; the point of the lamé is to prevent static buildup. A brand-new study found that about 2/3 of dogs wearing Storm Defenders showed some improvement, according to their owners. But – and how baffling is this? – so did about 2/3 of dogs wearing fake Storm Defenders, which looked like the real ones but minus the lamé. That might be the placebo effect at work. Or maybe the owners’ body language changed and in turn changed the dogs’ behavior. Or maybe it just helps dogs to wear a cape during storms.
The Treatment Will Depend on the Dog
While you’re dressing your dog up and giving him anti-anxiety meds, cut out as many features of the storm as you can. Draw curtains, close windows, turn on the A/C or play soft music. If your dog wants to hide in the bathroom or sit next to you, let her. Debate rages over the effect of comforting your dog by petting and talking to her. The attitude that you and your dog have to be tough guys is laughable, or sad, but maybe your voice and touch do reward fearful behavior. On the other hand, a calm, encouraging friend can help us through an anxious hour. I believe the right response is the one that’s right for you and your dog.
Often, with behavior problems, cure is elusive but improvement lies in reach. For references to the studies I’ve cited, see the bottom of this page. Call me with your questions and comments at 206-600-5661 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s all for now, and thanks for listening.