Thunder and lightning season is upon us. Our dogs are probably acutely aware of that fact already! A portion of my animal communication work in the spring and summer months relates to dogs with thunder fear or anxiety. My own dog, now passed, had thunder anxiety so I know first hand that it is not fun for the dog or human when storms start to roll in.
Not all dogs have a reaction to thunder and lightning, and some dogs develop anxiety over time. A good friend emailed this morning stating that their six year old lab had his first thunder storm reaction last night. He was severely panicked, yet he has never been bothered by storms in the past.
Thunder is, of course, a very loud and lasting rumbling noise. Just the noise is the culprit for some dogs. Thunder also often has accompanying lightening, and the flash of unexpected light in the sky can be a shock for some dogs. Thunder is also a vibration felt from the ground, which dogs feel but generally humans don’t. Many dogs, however, have explained to me a feeling of an electrical current, or static electricity, in the air that feels overwhelming, sometimes suffocating, and always disconcerting. Quite often I learn that it is this electrical charge in the air that is the most difficult for dogs to deal with. We might be able to muffle the sound of thunder, put them in a dark room to shield them from lightening, or hold them in our lap so the vibrations are lessened, but I have yet to come up with a way to minimize the static feeling in the air.
Thunder fear can be difficult to reverse. There are training and behavioral modification techniques which may work for some dogs. There are aids – flower essence remedies, herbal remedies, homeopathics, and pharmaceuticals – which may work for some dogs. Animal communication can work for some dogs, and a combination of all of the above may be the best solution. Every dog is different in their reasons for reacting to storms, and their type of reaction is different. Therefore, the solution needs to be individualized; your health care provider and/or animal communicator can help identify resources appropriate for your dog.
Regardless of the use of any remedies or behavioral modification techniques, there are some things that YOU CAN DO to set the stage for a calmer experience. First and foremost, as we know, our animals are sponges and pick up on their human’s state of mind and being. If you have anxiety or fear of electrical storms or loud noises, your pet is very likely role-modeling your own fear. If you are particularly stressed with work, family or personal issues, your pet may pick up on that stress and when the thunder begins, the stress they feel in you can lead them to believe the thunder is the cause and they react accordingly. I wish I could give you a magic tonic so that you would never be anxious or stressed, and that I could take away your own thunder anxiety. As lovely as that would be, it’s not possible. I am not saying that your dog’s fear of thunder is your fault either; however, how you respond to your dog during thunder storms may affect how quickly they recover from their anxiety.
Many of my clients say “my dog knows a thunder storm is approaching hours before I ever hear or see thunder and lightning.” So true, and that was my experience with my own dog as well. Sometimes it took me quite awhile to recognize his anxiety as related to an upcoming storm. The sooner we recognize the symptoms, however, the better.
As soon as you notice a change in behavior indicating an approaching storm, immediately begin visualizing your dog in a calm state, much like you see him or her on any normal, clear day. Really see in your mind’s eye your calm dog, roaming around in his normal routine. Feel the serenity he experiences as he explores the garden, moves from room to room to check on his humans, and takes a peaceful nap on his dog bed in the sun room. Through all of your vision, keep recognizing that your dog is 100% safe. Calm, peaceful, and safe. Those are your mantra words. The more you can envision the scene as you want it to be (and don’t let your mind focus on the panic and fear you have come to expect), the better. This exercise not only gives your dog a clue on how he can and should behave as a storm approaches, it also keeps you calm, and the focus on your beloved canine at this time will put any of your own fear and stress on the back burner.
Pay attention to the words you use with your pet during this fearful time. If your dog is in a fearful state, saying “it’s okay” or “you’re okay” is actually reinforcing his fearful way of being. Instead, use words like “stay calm” and “you are safe” to reassure him. Ultimately, we want to support our pets to cope and console themselves. Your sincere belief that they are, and will remain, safe will go a long way in convincing them!
Whether you utilize an aid or behavioral technique in addition to these calming words and visions, know that the storm will pass, and your pets will return to their happy state of mind shortly thereafter.