In parts 1 and 2, I talked about how comfort and play can help reduce your dog’s emotional distress during a thunderstorm. I have excluded more canonical forms of counterconditioning and desensitization, like the use of food or recordings that replicate the sounds of storms, because they are well described by other people, and, honestly, I think that their usefulness is limited, especially when they are the only therapy.
But this is true when dealing with any moderate to severe thunderstorm phobias - your primary approach will most likely need to be supplemented.
What is a supplemental therapy?
“Supplemental therapy” can be defined in various ways, but I think that it is most helpful to think of it as something that decreases the immediate effects of the thunderstorm; it take the edge off. This makes the training you decide to do easier.
A couple important points:
- In many cases, a supplemental therapy can also be a primary therapy and vice versa. For example, the use of the Thundershirt that I described in part 1 may be something that you put on your dog to help lower their stress enough so that you can give them lots of food and other good things, or it may provide your dog such a huge relief that you choose to not do anything else.
- It is realistic/reasonable to only use supplemental therapies and decide to not actively try to train your dog out of his phobia. Completely changing your dog’s emotional response to thunderstorms is a long road that often has no end due to the numerous uncontrolled variables. Trying to navigate this road can be frustrating, which can translate to stress. And your stress won’t help your dog’s stress.
How to take the edge off
Doing what you can to mitigate the perception of the sensory stimuli provided by thunderstorms, like their sound and production/alteration of static electrical charge, can do a lot for your dog. Thus, white noise or a well-insulated room and using a cape that reduces static electrical charge for your dog can be helpful.
There are other things you can try like Adaptil and flower essences, but what I really want to talk about is medication.
No, I’m not recommending any specific drug, but I am recommending that you ask your veterinarian about helping your dog get through a storm with medication.
Erase the stigma
There is still a stigma associated with using medication to treat behavior issues and phobias in dogs. I think a big reason for this is the belief that all dog behavior problems are a direct result of insufficient leadership from the owner.
This is not true, and it keeps owners from seeking appropriate medication because they feel that doing so is admitting their own failure.
Asking your vet for medication to help your storm phobic dog is not failure. It could be exactly what your dog needs to feel comfortable, and that is success.