Dogs and Thunderstorm Anxiety

dog watching storm

If you’ve owned several dogs in your lifetime, chances are you’ve seen firsthand dog anxiety during a thunderstorm. It is very common for dogs to experience nervousness with the big noisy thunder and flashes of lightning, it can be scary! But just because it’s fairly common, doesn’t mean your pup has to be scared of thunderstorms anymore!

 

If your pooch suffers from anxiety during thunderstorms, it’s important to first look at any other issues or anxiety your pup may have. Often times, a small issue like anxiety during thunderstorms, is linked to a much bigger issue. Does your dog get enough exercise during the day? Does he have enough mental stimulation? Do you practise bonding exercises with him? Does he show anxiety during any other times? Does he suffer from separation anxiety? These are just some examples of questions you will need to ask yourself before addressing your dog’s anxiety. If we aren’t asking these questions and only seek out to solve this one problem, your dog may still have issues in other areas in his life that could be linked to the thunderstorm nervousness; and it will be much harder to calm him down during thunderstorms if these other issues aren’t addressed.

 

The cause of anxiety can be drastically different in every dog. Maybe your dog hasn’t had enough mental stimulation and so he is all ‘pent up’ when the thunderstorm starts, resulting in shaking, barking, hiding, etc. If you are having trouble identifying the underlying cause of your dog’s behaviour, look up a dog behaviourist for advice.

 

The signs of anxiety in your dog during a thunderstorm can vary, but commonly panting, barking, whining, hiding, drooling, and/or dilated pupils.

 

With most behavioural issues in dogs, the answer is often ‘desensitization’. Meaning the dog is slowly introduced in a positive manner to the thing, place or person that they have an undesirable reaction to. With lots of time and patience, the dog learns to be calm in the presence of the previously reactive item.

 

Unfortunately, storms are a special case as it is difficult to truly mimic a thunderstorm in the sense of a dog. Not only are they picking up on the thunder and lighting, they also hear the changes in the wind and changes in the barometric pressure (this is why dogs can often sense when a storm is coming). So it is even more important when it comes to thunderstorm anxiety, to investigate if your dog is fulfilled in other areas of his life (such as physical and mental stimulation, training, bonding with dogs and humans, etc.) With these other areas of his life fulfilled, you will see a dramatic difference in your dog during the storm.

 

What else can you do to help your dog during the storm? With all of your dogs needs being met, he may still show a few signs of anxiety during the storm. Some quick fixes for this are the ‘thundershirt’, a clothing item for your dog to wear that has antic-static lining and fits snugly on your dog to mimic the feeling of being swaddled. Make sure during the storm that everyone in the house stays calm, don’t over react or anticipate your dog to freak out as he will feed off that and often freak out more. If your dog has extreme anxiety and you’ve consulted a dog behaviourist, you may want to speak with your vet about homeopathic remedies to help calm down your dog. But remember, any quick fixes will not solve any underlying problems or truly help your dog to learn to calm himself down without your help. Your dog depends on you to not only protect him, but also to teach and guide him how to calm down without depending on or waiting for you to be there.

 

What is the Canine Good Citizen Program?

dog smiling with owner

Is your pooch the perfect gentleman? Knows all his manners and loves to meet new dogs and people with a calm demeanor? Your dog may already have what to takes to pass the CKC Canine Good Citizen test!

What is the Canine Good Citizen program? It was created by the CKC (Canadian Kennel Club) in 1989 to encourage responsible dog ownership and the goal being that the dog acts appropriately in various surroundings and situations. The program encourages the owner to use non-aversive training methods, and to strengthen the bond between owner and dog to improve training results as well as overall happiness (for both the owner and the dog). This program also helps improve communities as the dogs are less likely to act inappropriately towards strangers, assuming the manners continue to be maintained after the certificate has been earned. Even people who may be a little nervous around dogs, are typically much more at ease when you tell them your dog is a certified Good Citizen!

For your dog to earn his Canadian Canine Good Citizen certificate (also known as ‘CCGC’), you must set up a testing date with one of the CKC approved evaluators through the CKC website. On the date of the test, you must bring all paperwork for your dog such as proof of vaccinations and license, dog brush, plastic bag, leash and collar (or harness is also acceptable). The test must be done in a public place so that there are some distractions around. The dog is given the Canine Good Citizen Test broken down into 12 steps.

1. Accepting A Friendly Stranger (Owner shakes hands with a friendly stranger, dog must remain calm)
2. Politely Accepts Petting (Evaluator pets the dog, testing the dog for shyness)
3. Appearance and Grooming (Evaluator inspects that the dog is well looked after, coat in good condition, healthy teeth, clear eyes, etc.)
4. Out For A Walk (Owner walks the dog, any tension on the leash is automatic failure)
5. Walking Through A Crowd (Dog remains calm in busy public setting, does not show signs of stress or nervousness, must continue to have a ‘loose leash’)
6. Sit/Down On Command and Stay In Place (Dog must know ‘sit’, ‘down’ and ‘stay’ and able to perform these reliably even with distractions)
7. Come When Called (Dog must know ‘come’ reliably even with distractions)
8. Praise/Interaction (Evaluator observes the relationship between owner and dog when owner gives praise, as well as the dog should be able to calm down easily and quickly after praise is done)
9. Reaction To A Passing Dog (Dog remains calm and not nervous, shy or aggressive when passing a dog)
10. Reaction To Distractions (With distractions present, dog must remain confident and not fearful or overly excited)
11. Supervised Isolation (Evaluator tests that the dog continues to have good manners and respond appropriately to commands from a stranger while the owner is not within their eyesight)
12. Walking Through A Door/Gate (Dog waits for the owner to give the ok before going through gate, dog must calmly walk through door or gate and not charge or pull)

It may seem daunting at first if you are in the early stages of training with your dog, but completing the CCGC program is an excellent foundation towards more fun things with your dog like agility or performance events. Not only does it help give a foundation to training, it also greatly increases the bond between you and your dog as you spend lots of time together practising and training for this test. You will also learn to read your dog’s body language better and it will almost be like you can have conversations together! The Canine Good Citizen program gives you the confidence to take your dog anywhere and know he will be on his best behaviour.

Ways to Help Your Dog Relax

Most dog owners at one point or another have seen their dog in an anxious or stressed state. It can be unfortunate to watch your dog feeling stressed, especially when you don’t know what to do. So to help you and your pup feel more at ease during those anxious times, we’ve put together some helpful tips to ease your dog into a more relaxed state of mind.

 

‘Monkey See, Monkey Do’: What we mean by this is when your dog sees you acting calm and speaking in a low, soothing voice, he will also be in a calm state of mind with you. Dogs read our body language very well and respond to it immediately. If you are talking in a way that gets your dog excited, then you can only expect him to be excited! The more you practise being calm in your own life, you will quickly see your dog becoming calm right along with you.

 

Go For a Run!: Have you ever noticed going for walk quickly improves your mood? The same goes for your dog! Making sure your dog is properly mentally and physically stimulated helps to ensure they are not redirecting any excess energy into being anxious. A tired dog is much more likely to be calm and relaxed as opposed to a dog who hasn’t had a walk all day!

 

Thundershirt: Using a special design of ‘pressure points’ (but not painful), the thundershirt helps anxious dogs by fitting snugly and applying pressure to make the dog feel more secure. Similar to how a baby feels when being swaddled, the thundershirt fits tight on the dog’s torso and makes most dogs feel safe during anxiety-inducing instances such as thunderstorms, loud noises, vet visits, fireworks, etc. Although the thundershirt may not work for every dog, many dog owners have found a lot of relief with this product.

 

Whether you decide to use anxiety-reducing products or simply talking in a less excited tone to you dog, the best way to help your dog stay in a calm state of mind is patience and consistency. Especially if your dog is prone to being anxious, sometimes the best method is to ask a trainer or behaviourist on what long term exercises you can do to help your dog. Just as we don’t want to be constantly stressed, our dogs shouldn’t have to be stressed either. Making sure to watch our own behaviours and staying in a calm state of mind around our dogs will help them to relax.