Dear Porky & Buddy,
Thunderstorm season is coming up (although didn’t we just get done with the snow?) and this year I would like to be better prepared to deal with my dog Chipper’s anxiety during these storms.
He just gets so anxious, he trembles all over and follows me around the house crying until the storm is over. I try to ignore him, as a lot of people advise, but it breaks my heart.
So I read about those Thunder Shirts that are sold to deal with dog anxiety. Do they work? Is there any science behind them?
What else can I do, other than just get anxious and upset myself every time I know a thunderstorm is coming?
First, let us assure you that dog behaviorists generally debunk the common wisdom that you should ignore a dog when he is becoming anxious and fearful, including during a thunder storm.
They basically say that the advice makes no sense. Comforting a dog when he is afraid of something is not going to lead to him being afraid in order to get attention. It might not do much good, but it won’t make it worse.
If you are terrified of something like thunder you dog can sense that anxiety in you and become correspondingly anxious, but just calmly petting him does no harm.
We feel a little guilty because we have repeated what turns out to be a myth in prior years in this column, but hey, you can teach an old dog and cat new tricks.
So do the Thunder Shirts work?
There are lots of enthusiastic anecdotal reports on the internet about Thunder shirts and some of their similar predecessors relieving various canine and feline anxiety problems.
But, we found little “science” about how they work or whether they work consistently.
On the other hand they are not expensive, only about $40 online.
For the real scoop though on how to deal with this problem, which can be very serious for some dogs, we turned to our favorite animal behaviorist, Dr. Patricia McConnell.
In her blog, TheOtherEndoftheLeash, http://www.patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleash/thunder-phobia-in-dogs Dr. McConnell talks about the many strategies for dealing with thunder phobia and similar phobias in dogs.
Included as one strategy is the notion of just comforting Chipper and how to go about doing it effectively.
Read that blog and explore other related entries on her website; talk to your veterinarian for advice; order a Thunder Shirt if you want – it won’t hurt him and may help; and every time you hear thunder rolling in, give Chipper a big old kiss on the lips.
That might not help much either, but you can’t kiss your dog, or your cat, too often.
The Oswego County Humane Society provides spay/neuter services and assistance, fostering and adoption of animals in urgent need, humane education programs, and information and referrals to animal lovers throughout Oswego County.
Our office is located at 265 W. First St., Oswego, NY.
Phone (315) 207-1070.
Because people and pets are good for each other!